Pressure piles up on PM to ease travel restrictions and shun an amber watchlist

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arrivals in UK at gatwick - Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
arrivals in UK at gatwick - Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Boris Johnson is under growing Cabinet pressure to ease travel restrictions, amid fears an amber watchlist for European countries could wreck summer holidays.

The Government is due on Thursday to update the traffic light list setting the rules for August, with threats to create a new category that could see nations moved at short notice to red, which entails 10 days’ hotel quarantine upon return to the UK.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, is understood to be pushing for the idea of an “amber watchlist” to be shelved, as well as an expansion of the green list that enables even the unvaccinated to avoid quarantine upon their return.

A growing chorus of senior backbenchers voiced their frustration on Sunday night over the proposal for an amber watchlist which they fear will put off families from travelling in case the rules change suddenly and they would have to pay for hotel quarantine.

It is thought Spain and Greece and their popular islands are at the highest risk of being plunged into the new category, with France switched to it from its current amber plus status, which requires holidaymakers to home quarantine.

One Tory MP accused the Government of threatening to create an amber watchlist just to deter people from travelling at all.

Henry Smith, the Tory chair of the all-party future of aviation group, warned the Government that complicating the traffic light system with new categories would “increase confusion and therefore discourage travel”, adding: “It isn’t helpful in terms of passenger confidence.”

The amber watchlist could yet be shelved as a concept, however, it is understood. Ministers are due to discuss the idea later this week once they see the latest data from the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC).

It comes after Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, was shown to have heaped pressure on Mr Johnson in a leaked letter to open the borders, warning that the current curbs were harming the economy and tourism.

The letter was said to have been sent before the Prime Minister last week allowed visitors from the EU and US to avoid isolating upon arrival in the UK. None of the countries affected has yet extended a reciprocal offer to British tourists.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, and Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary, are among other senior frontbenchers understood to be keen to ease the travel curbs.

Concerns have been raised by ministers that the UK is becoming an outlier on its travel policy in comparison with other developed nations.

“We have to remain internationally competitive. We shouldn’t be doing anything unnecessary that hinders that,” said a government source.

Pressure is also ramping up for Mr Johnson to soften the rules on airport transfer hubs, so that passengers who remained airside while transiting would not have to be treated as if they had visited a red list country.

The move would help Britons who travel through red list nations, such as Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, simply to change flights on their way home from other destinations.

An analysis of infection and vaccination data suggests the green list could be expanded to another 17 nations, which would take the total to 46.

The research by The PC Agency, suggests an additional 17 countries could join the green list for quarantine-free travel this week.

It calculates that 12 destinations including Germany, Poland, Canada, Austria and Romania could go fully green, allowing even unvaccinated holidaymakers to visit them without having to quarantine on their return to the UK.

All 12 have infection rates below 30 cases per 100,000 of the population, compared with the UK’s 286 per 100,000. Most have also fully vaccinated more than half their adult populations. The 12 include Bosnia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

A further five - Bhutan, French Polynesia, North Macedonia, Norway and Saudi Arabia - have low enough infection rates to join the green watchlist, defined as being at risk of going amber and enabling only fully vaccinated travellers to visit them without quarantining on returning to the UK.

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