Waiting game: passengers at Faro airport queuing for a flight to London Stansted
Waiting game: passengers at Faro airport queuing for a flight to London Stansted

Top Tory calls government travel guidance ‘nonsensical and wrong’

‘It’s not clear at all and if it’s not clear, you can’t enforce,’ says Huw Merriman, chair of the Transport Select Committee

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 19 May 2021 15:16
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The Tory chair of the Transport Select Committee has poured scorn on the conflicting government advice on travel to “amber list” countries.

Speaking on the BBC’s World at One programme, Huw Merriman said: “I thought that if you were coming from a country that was on the amber listen there would be tests, passenger location form and quarantine at home.

“But now we are being told that we shouldn’t be going there at all.”

On Monday, the UK’s 19-week ban on international leisure travel was lifted, allowing British holidaymakers to go anywhere they wish – if their destination will admit them. The new “traffic light” categorisation of countries as low risk (green), medium risk (amber) and high risk (red) determines what testing and quarantine rules are in force on return.

On Tuesday the health minister, Lord Bethell, said: “Travelling is dangerous, that’s why we tell people not to travel.

“As we go into the summer, we tell people: travelling is not for this year. Please stay in this country.”

During Wednesday’s prime minister’s question time, Boris Johnson implied that non-essential travel was not permitted, telling MPs: “You should not be going to an amber list country except for some extreme circumstances such as the serious illness of a family member.

“You should not be going to an amber list country on holiday.”

The prime minister’s words indicate that the government policy for the vast majority of locations remains exactly as it was before Monday’s unlocking of international travel. Essential journeys of the sort the prime minister describes were permitted even when overseas holidays were banned.

Mr Merriman said: “People are being told they shouldn’t be travelling and I think that that is just wrong – not least because many, many people have made their bookings based on what they thought the restrictions would be, and are now being told they shouldn’t go at all.

“We don’t make by diktat. The whole idea here is that we had restrictions in place which were lifted on 17 May.

“What’s the point in putting those extra steps in place to mitigate against the risks when in fact you then say, ‘actually, you can’t do it at all’?

“It’s not clear at all and if it’s not clear, you can’t enforce.”

Charlie Cornish, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group, said: “The traffic light system was signed-off by the UK’s four chief medical officers to provide a safe framework for international travel based on different levels of risk in green, amber and red countries.

“The whole point of the framework is to allow people to make their own decisions about whether to travel or not, confident in the knowledge that it would be safe.

“It is simply unacceptable for some ministers and officials to seek to discourage international travel, based their own interpretations of government policy.

“Comments like these undermine consumer confidence and risk stifling the recovery of one of the UK’s most valuable sectors.”

Willie Walsh, former chief executive of British Airways and director general of the International Air Transport Association (Iata), described the mixed messaging as “very unfortunate”.

He told the BBC World At One: “People have a right to accurate information and clear advice and the government has a responsibility to provide that information in a clear and open way so that people can make informed decisions.

“I believe it’s for individuals to make their own judgements as to the risks they’re willing to take and to have guidelines that can help them make those choices.

“The government and in particular the prime minister in this case has failed in this regard.”

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