Priti Patel has admitted that the UK’s borders should have been closed earlier to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Leaked footage shows the Home Secretary telling a group of Conservative supporters that she pushed for shutting borders last March.
Her comments set her at odds with the Government strategy, with compulsory quarantine for all arrivals was finally introduced on Monday, 353 days after the UK’s first confirmed case of Covid-19.
The Government has come under fire for not introducing border controls sooner, which one SAGE expert describing the UK’s policy as “pretty lax”.
In a video call with the Conservative Friends of India on Tuesday, obtained by the Guido Fawkes blog, Ms Patel said: “On ‘should we have closed our borders earlier’ the answer is yes, I was an advocate of closing them last March.”
Reports at the time suggested Ms Patel had clashed with Boris Johnson over border policy, suggesting the UK should stop flights from coronavirus hotspots.
The Government finally axed quarantine free travel on Monday and ordered all new arrivals to prove they had tested negative in the past 72 hours.
Everyone must quarantine for 10 days, regardless of whether they have had a negative test.
Travellers can only break quarantine early if they pay for a private test after five days – which comes back negative.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We have strong measures at the border in place which are vital as we roll out the vaccine.”
In a series of broadcast interviews on Wednesday, Ms Patel sought to pin the blame on the scientists.
“Scientists advised us at the time, when coronavirus was incredibly high, that it would not have made any difference to take border measures,” she told BBC Breakfast.
She defended the Government’s handling of the pandemic, saying: “I don’t think this is the time to talk about mismanagement.
“We have been with this virus, this pandemic, for about a year now and it is a global pandemic across the world.
“Governments respond very differently – we’ve seen that across the world, but based on the facts, the science, the evidence that has been presented to us as decision-makers. We have seen harrowing death tolls around the world.”
She branded the UK death toll “catastrophic” but claimed no one could have known how deadly coronavirus would be.
She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “When you look at the number of deaths, the number is absolutely catastrophic – appalling in every sense of the word.
“And that is partly because back in March, no one could speculate or even conceive how challenging, not just this pandemic, but how deadly coronavirus would be.
“None of us knew at that stage.”