Airlines' fury at Boris Johnson's amber list debacle

Airlines’ fury at amber list debacle: Boris Johnson says we should only travel to medium risk countries in ‘extreme circumstances’… but 5m people have booked trips abroad

  • PM said families should visit amber destinations only in ‘extreme circumstances’ 
  • On Monday he was less definitive, saying trips should be for ‘pressing’ reasons
  • Cabinet ministers suggested holidays and visits to family would be acceptable
  • Adding to chaos, health minister Lord Bethell called all trips abroad ‘dangerous’
  • Contradictory messages left holidaymakers and travel chiefs begging for clarity 

Travel bosses reacted with fury last night after Boris Johnson hardened his stance on trips to amber list countries.

The Prime Minister said families should visit medium-risk destinations only in ‘extreme circumstances’ and not for holidays.

On Monday he was less definitive, saying such trips should be for ‘pressing’ family or business reasons only.

Confusion reigned earlier this week when two Cabinet ministers suggested leisure breaks and visits to family and friends would be acceptable. Adding to the chaos health minister Lord Bethell claimed all holidays abroad were ‘dangerous’.

The contradictory messages have left holidaymakers and travel chiefs begging for clarity. 

Around five million Britons have booked amber list breaks this summer, leaving them in limbo over whether to cancel or re-book and hope their destination makes the green list.

On Monday the outright ban on foreign travel was replaced by a green, amber and red traffic light system grading different countries by their Covid risk level.

Travel bosses reacted with fury last night after Boris Johnson hardened his stance on trips to amber list countries. Pictured: Heathrow Airport

The Prime Minister said families should visit medium-risk destinations only in ‘extreme circumstances’ and not for holidays. Pictured: Boris Johnson on Wednesday

But amid concern over foreign variants, ministers then said that no one should go on holiday in an amber country even if they quarantined on return.

Writing in the Mail, Tim Alderslade of Airlines UK, which represents major carriers, said: ‘Just as our beleaguered travel and tourism companies have started to look ahead with hope, illogical, confusing and alarming messaging from ministers risk the whole system unravelling before it has even had a chance to get going.

‘Why demonise those who have decided to travel to an amber country in full knowledge of the extra health measures, including quarantine, that are put in place to guard against any additional risk from Covid?’

George Morgan-Grenville, of luxury tour operator Red Savannah, said the traffic light system was ‘lunacy’. He added: ‘What is the point of the amber list? You may as well make the amber list the red list. What’s the point of having a passport? What’s the point of legalising travel again, only to say that you can’t travel?’

Julia Lo Bue-Said, of Advantage Travel Partnership, said: ‘This is typical nanny state tactics. Surely the British public can make up their own mind if they wish to quarantine in order to visit an amber country. As long as protocols are followed, testing is in place and rules in the destination are adhered to we see no reason why we cannot be allowed to travel safely to amber destinations for leisure. Otherwise, make those amber countries red.’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer confronted Mr Johnson over the fiasco at PMQs in the Commons yesterday, accusing ministers of having ‘lost control of the messaging’.

He added: ‘If he doesn’t want people to travel to amber list countries, why has he made it easier for them to do so?’

On Monday the outright ban on foreign travel was replaced by a green, amber and red traffic light system grading different countries by their Covid risk level. Pictured: Heathrow Airport on Wednesday

Mr Johnson replied: ‘It is very, very clear Mr Speaker. You should not be going to an amber list country except for some extreme circumstance, such as the serious illness of a family member. You should not be going to an amber list country on holiday. And if you do go to an amber list country we will enforce the ten-day quarantine period and if you break the rules you face very substantial fines.’

At a Downing Street press conference last night Mr Hancock said: ‘If you look at what the PM said last week, what I said at the weekend, what I said in the House on Monday, what the PM said at lunch today, we’ve been absolutely crystal clear – that you should not go to an amber or red list country on holiday. You should only go for exceptional circumstances. An example might be to visit a very ill family member or to go to a funeral of somebody very close to you.’

Of the decision not to ban amber travel completely, he added: ‘There are some things that we have banned in law but there are some things we do not recommend. You don’t necessarily have to ban everything as a government minister.’

Just 12 destinations are green, with most in remote parts of the world or with strict entry measures in place or outright bans on British tourists.

And in a further blow, there were reports last night that no new countries will join the green list ‘for some considerable time’. It means beach holidays to popular hotspots such as Spain, Italy and Greece may not be possible until July or even August.

Confusion reigned earlier this week when two Cabinet ministers suggested leisure breaks and visits to family and friends would be acceptable. Adding to the chaos health minister Lord Bethell claimed all holidays abroad were ‘dangerous’. Pictured: Heathrow Airport on Wednesday

Appearing on ITV’s Peston show last night, Michael O’Leary of Ryanair was asked if he understood the UK travel rules. ‘No and I think most of the UK population doesn’t understand them either,’ he replied. ‘But I’m happy to say that for about the past four weeks they’ve been booking in their droves, mainly I think they’re booking into June, July, August, and September.

‘People are ignoring the short-term restrictions and working out they’ll be safe to fly in late June, July, August when the school holidays come around and they’re booking in their literally hundreds of thousands on a daily basis.’

Virginia Messina, of the World Travel & Tourism Council, said: ‘Disagreements over whether or not you can travel to an ‘amber country’ are baffling consumers and leaving the travel and tourism sector in disarray.’

Gillian Keegan, the skills minister, said she was ‘desperate’ to visit her second home in Spain but now was not the time to holiday there.   

TIM ALDERSLADE: These holiday rules are alarming, confusing, and illogical. Sort it out, ministers!  

This week saw the sight of happy British holidaymakers visiting beaches, bars and restaurants in Portugal, one of the tiny number of green-listed countries under the Government’s international travel scheme.

But, just as our beleaguered travel and tourism companies have started to look ahead with hope, illogical, confusing and alarming messaging from Ministers risks the whole system unravelling before it has even had a chance to get going.

The whole point of the risk-based red, amber and green system launched this week was to allow people to make informed decisions about their travel plans, knowing that non-essential travel is legal again. 

This means few restrictions for green countries like Portugal, more for amber, and a clear directive that you should not travel to red. 

This is a common-sense approach backed by industry, even if it means travel still won’t feel entirely normal for a while yet. 

Tourists soak up the sun on a beach in the Algarve, Portugal this week as Brits flocked to amber and green listed nations as Covid-19 restrictions eased

‘The Government needs to lead by example, stop being afraid of its own shadow and follow the data, or else we face the very real prospect of the UK being grounded permanently’

Pictured: Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK

Yet this week the Government has moved the goalposts, with the Minister Lord Bethell making the astonishing claim that all travel is ‘dangerous’ and telling people to ‘stay at home’ for the whole of the rest of the year – despite international travel only being made legal again 24 hours before.

This only added more confusion following the Prime Minister’s comments that people should not travel to amber countries except under ‘extreme circumstances’.

But why not? The FCDO travel advice says it is safe to travel to at least 20 amber countries. It is not illegal to do so. 

So why demonise those who have decided to travel to an amber country in full knowledge of the extra health measures, including quarantine, that are put in place to guard against any additional risk from Covid?

We have less a traffic light system than 50 shades of red, where travel is only allowed to freezing and far away uninhabited islands, one mainstream market and banned everywhere else. 

We are at a truly critical point as we approach the summer. 

The EU is forging ahead with plans to open up and allow unrestricted travel to those who have been vaccinated, a pragmatic approach that will be a lifeline to desperate travel and tourism industries and the millions of Europeans desperate to get away, now liberated by the huge success of the vaccines that were designed to do just that.

‘Why demonise those who have decided to travel to an amber country in full knowledge of the extra health measures, including quarantine, that are put in place to guard against any additional risk from Covid?’

But we are going to needlessly miss out, with the Government appearing determined to stamp out travel and throw away our vaccine dividend, irrespective of the evidence and the impacts on jobs and freedoms.

Of course, we need to remain vigilant and it is right that countries like India stay on the banned list. 

However, India is not the world, and in much of Europe, and especially the US, cases are low and dropping, vaccine rates are high, and test and trace data shows that few if any cases are being imported, with no variants of concern.

In short, the Government needs to lead by example, stop being afraid of its own shadow and follow the data, or else we face the very real prospect of the UK being grounded permanently. 

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