<p>First choice: Catalan Bay in Gibraltar, the only surviving southern European destination on  the government’s green list</p>

First choice: Catalan Bay in Gibraltar, the only surviving southern European destination on the government’s green list

3 June 2021: the day your summer escape or job in travel was written off?

The Man Who Pays His Way: holiday quarantine bingo is back, courtesy of the transport secretary, Grant Shapps

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 04 June 2021 15:50
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Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.

Holiday quarantine bingo is back, and with it the familiar face of the caller, Grant Shapps. Eight weeks ago the transport secretary vowed: “To give passengers more certainty when travelling, a ‘green watchlist’ will be introduced to help identify countries most at risk of moving from ‘green’ to ‘amber’.”

But on Thursday, he ditched the whole idea of a grace period for holidaymakers. Anyone who had been gullible enough to book a trip to green list Portugal on the basis of his assurance was given just 108 hours to organise a flight home before they need to self-isolate (and pay for even more Covid tests on arrival). At 4am on Tuesday 8 June, the one major and accessible country on the green list will lose its quarantine-free status. No “green watchlist”, no regard for the stress and upset the move will cause.

Even by the impressive standards of Department for Transport U-turns, this was a handbrake wonder that will prove toxic all summer long.

On a dispassionate level, Grant Shapps fascinates me. I have reported on many transport secretaries in my time. Most are well-meaning but middling, with Lord Adonis of Labour and a Tory, Patrick McLoughlin, honourable exceptions with vision and belief in travel. But until Mr Shapps took on the role, none has connived in the wilful destruction of the businesses and livelihoods they are supposed to protect and nurture.

I don’t believe Grant Shapps hates the travel industry, but he evidently loves power. To maximise the chance that the electorate will continue to support the Conservative government in generous numbers and enable him to stay in a job, Mr Shapps will do almost anything – including throwing the travel careers, hopes and dreams of millions of people under the bus because he believes that they will be comfortably outnumbered by the tens of millions of voters who will watch and applaud.

The death warrant was published hours after the leaks to friendly newspapers had commenced. It read: “All classification changes have been decided by ministers, informed by the latest data and analysis by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) and wider public health factors [my italics], to help people understand the risks to public health here from travellers returning from different destinations.”

For “wider public health factors”, read “opinion polls” – which show large majorities in favour of quarantining everyone coming into the UK.

Forget “genomic sequencing capability” and the other criteria that Grant Shapps claimed were so important: the motivation for Thursday’s wantonly destabilising decision was political. Most British people believe that, right now, no one should be holidaying abroad. I find that perplexing: I have spent the week out of doors in Gibraltar, a territory where almost 100 per cent of the adult population has been vaccinated. I have been at far lower risk than in the UK. But the polls are against me.

A month ago, the transport secretary acknowledged that a very limited amount of international travel could be safely opened up, with an ultra-cautious degree of pre-departure and post-arrival testing that pays no heed to NHS vaccinations.

Now, apparently, he doesn’t believe that at all.

Government by opinion poll is as old as democracy, but the politician responsible for the travel industry has taken it to a new level: overturning a perfectly sensible policy that he brought only 17 days ago that was intended to reflect the risk to the UK of arrivals from different countries.

Agreed, international travel allowed coronavirus to spread swiftly and lethally around the world. But from now on every job that is lost, every dream that is crushed, every family reunion that is wrecked: all are on you, Mr Shapps.

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