"I recognise that the government has to put down strict rules"
Ten-year prison sentences have been introduced for those who lie about their travel at the UK border.
The government announced the new restrictions amid concerns that new Covid-19 variants are becoming more widespread in the UK.
The measures are due to come into force from February 15, 2021.
Under the new rules, UK and Irish residents arriving in England from 33 “red list” countries will have to pay up to £1,750 to quarantine for 10 days in government-managed hotel rooms.
They will also have to provide a negative Covid-19 test 72 hours before their flight.
Anyone who tries to hide that they had been in a “red list” country in the 10 days before their arrival will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
However, the tough penalties have caused concern.
Lord Jonathan Sumption questioned Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s announcement.
He said: “Ten years is the maximum sentence for threats to kill, non-fatal poisoning or indecent assault.
“Does Mr Hancock really think that non-disclosure of a visit to Portugal is worse than the large number of violent firearms offences or sexual offences involving minors, for which the maximum is seven years?”
Former Conservative MP Dominic Grieve called the 10-year jail sentence “entirely disproportionate”.
He said: “The reality is that nobody would get such a sentence anyway, the courts are simply not going to impose it.
“Now I recognise that the government has to put down strict rules and needs to have penalties to enforce them.
“But to suggest that a ten-year sentence is going to result from a false declaration on a form on landing at Heathrow Airport is, I think, a mistake because it is exaggerated, it is not going to happen.”
Travel Secretary Grant Shapps defended the new UK border measures, calling them “appropriate”.
He told Sky News: “What we’re dealing with now are the variants and, with variants, we cannot risk it in these final stages – where we’ve got the vaccine rolled out – that we might end up with a difficulty from variations, although we think so far that we’ll be able to take care of them through the vaccines.
“And, because of that, we think… things like prison sentences for lying about being in one of those red list countries are appropriate.”
Mr Shapp said that travel was down 95% compared to 2020, with less than 1,000 a day arriving from “red list” countries.
He said that the government has more than 5,000 hotel rooms immediately available for travellers to quarantine in.
Mr Shapp added: “By next week, when people will have to pay to do this, £1,750 package on top of their costs of getting here via an indirect route, I think we’ll find the numbers are actually pretty small.”
He also cast doubt on whether British citizens would be able to enjoy a summer holiday in 2021, either in the UK or abroad, amid the concerns about new Covid-19 strains.
He said: “I’m afraid I can’t give you a definitive ‘will there or will there not be’ the opportunity to take holidays this next year, either at home or abroad.”
In Scotland, all international travellers arriving into Scotland will have to stay in a quarantine hotel.
There are currently no international flights operating to Wales or Northern Ireland.