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.
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?’
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.
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.
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