A Government minister appeared to sow further confusion over international travel after he branded foreign jaunts “dangerous” and encouraged Britons to stay home this summer.
It comes after Downing Street had to clarify its so-called traffic light system – designed to open up international travel following months of lockdown – after a senior minister suggested people could travel to visit family or friends on the Government’s “amber list”.
Both the Prime Minister and No 10 officials later warned no-one should be holidaying in such places.
A health minister appeared to go a step further during an appearance in the House of Lords, urging Britons to scrap plans for holidays abroad this year despite some countries being classified as safe by being placed on the short “green list” of approved nations.
Lord Bethell told peers on Tuesday: “Travelling is dangerous. That is not news to us or to the people who get on those planes in the first place.
“We do ask people, particularly as we go into the summer, travelling is not for this year, please stay in this country.”
An aviation industry chief labelled the comments “deeply unhelpful” in the wake of what has proved a torrid time for the travel sector during the pandemic.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “These comments are simply not correct and will cause real anger amongst the hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on international travel, and confusion amongst families who have booked travel under the Government’s own restart policy, now less than 48 hours old.
“People should not travel to red countries we know that, but to generalise against perfectly legal travel even to green countries is deeply unhelpful.”
Lord Bethell’s remarks followed Yvette Cooper, a senior opposition MP and chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, branding the UK’s coronavirus border arrangements “a real mess”.
“The Government appears to have accelerated summer holiday travelling almost by accident, making it much easier from this week for people to travel to amber-listed countries, but only belatedly telling people they should not be doing so,” she said.
“The traffic light system is just not working well enough at the moment.”
The criticism came amid reports thousands of people had headed for destinations such as France, Greece, Spain and the United States – none of which are on the approved list – with more than 150 flights reported to have departed on Monday.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman, during a briefing with reporters, stressed that holidays and leisure travel should still be restricted to the limited number of countries deemed safe by ministers, such as Portugal.
The comments came after Environment Secretary George Eustice told broadcasters that, following the ending of the ban on foreign holidays on Monday in the latest easing of lockdown restrictions, people could go to amber-listed countries as long as they observed quarantine rules on their return.
“We don’t want to stop travel altogether and the reason, as (Health Secretary) Matt Hancock set out, that we have the amber list is there will be reasons why people feel they need to travel either to visit family or indeed to visit friends,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“They can travel to those countries but they then have to observe quarantine when they return and have two tests after returning.”
No 10 looked to clarify the comments later, telling journalists that travel to amber list destinations was only permitted for a strictly limited number of reasons, such as for work or on compassionate grounds.
The Prime Minister made clear in an interview that people should not be holidaying in amber-listed nations.
Speaking during a visit to a vaccination centre in north London, Boris Johnson said: “I think it’s very important for people to grasp what an amber list country is: it is not somewhere where you should be going on holiday, let me be very clear about that.”
Yet Welsh Secretary Simon Hart appeared to offer a different reading of the rules to Mr Johnson when speaking later in the day.
Mr Hart told Times Radio that, while people should only go to amber list countries “if it is essential”, he said some might “think a holiday is essential”.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the Government’s border had “unravelled into dangerous chaos” within hours of travel opening up, with even ministers left confused by the new regulations.