Johnson to face MPs as confusion reigns over international travel rules

A health minister suggested all foreign travel remained ‘dangerous’, despite it being legal to visit a number of other countries again.

Boris Johnson is likely to be asked to clear up confusion over international travel rules at Prime Minister's Questions
Boris Johnson is likely to be asked to clear up confusion over international travel rules at Prime Minister's Questions

Boris Johnson could face pressure to clarify the confusion around international travel rules when he takes Prime Minister’s Questions for the first time since Parliament reopened last week.

Facing Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in a six-question round for the first time since the local elections and the Queen’s Speech, the Prime Minister is likely to face questions on where it is safe to holiday after one of his ministers said all international trips were “dangerous”.

Would-be holidaymakers were left with their plans for a summer break up in the air after ministers appeared to contradict themselves over where the public are permitted to travel abroad.

With a new traffic light system brought in on Monday to allow some foreign travel to resume again after months of coronavirus lockdown, the Prime Minister stressed countries on the so-called “amber list” were “not somewhere where you should be going on holiday”.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman, during a briefing with reporters on Tuesday, said holidays and leisure travel should still be restricted to the limited number of countries deemed safe by ministers, such as Portugal, which feature on the quarantine-free “green list”.

But two Cabinet ministers appeared to offer a different reading of the rules, with Environment Secretary George Eustice telling broadcasters people could go to amber-listed countries as long as they observed quarantine rules on their return.

Welsh Secretary Simon Hart, speaking after Mr Johnson’s comments on the matter, told Times Radio the public should ask themselves whether a trip to a country on the amber list was “essential” before conceding that “some people might think a holiday is essential”.

And despite the presence of a green list comprising 12 countries and territories, health minister Lord Bethell told peers he considered all foreign travel to be “dangerous” and urged Britons to holiday at home this summer.

Lord Bethell told the House of Lords on Tuesday: “Travelling is dangerous.

“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 said Lord Bethell’s comments would cause “confusion” for families with trips booked.

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.

Quarantine-free travel is permitted to countries on the Government's green list
Quarantine-free travel is permitted to countries on the Government’s green list (Gareth Fuller/PA)

“People should not travel to red countries we know that, but to generalise against perfectly legal travel even to green countries is deeply unhelpful.”

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 when travel rules were relaxed as part of a further phase of lockdown easing.

Meanwhile, Labour will table a motion to require Government to publish lessons learned from the pandemic to protect the plan to scrap all Covid-19 restrictions by June 21.

It follows the publication of a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) which found that the pandemic had “laid bare existing fault lines within society and has exacerbated inequalities”.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said an unreformed adult social care system, workforce shortages and the financial pressure felt by central and local government “all require long-term solutions” after the coronavirus crisis.

Labour will look to capitalise on the findings in the final debate on the Queen’s Speech, with the opposition party tabling a humble address calling on the Government to publish its internal review of the handling of the pandemic to ensure lessons can be implemented in the race against the Indian variant.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth is preparing to tell MPs: “Boris Johnson promised us an irreversible roadmap to normality.

“With the spread of the B1617.2 variant threatening to hold us back, we need urgent action from ministers to contain this variant.”

It comes after ministers refused to rule out bringing back local tiered restrictions in a bid to control the highly transmissible Indian variant – although the Prime Minister said there was no “conclusive” evidence to deviate from the road map out of lockdown following rising case numbers of the South Asian mutation in some parts of the country.

North of the border, Nicola Sturgeon was re-elected as the First Minister of Scotland by a majority of MSPs at Holyrood on Tuesday, having vowed that recovery from the coronavirus pandemic was her “driving priority”.

The SNP leader said, although there was a “clear mandate” for another Scottish independence referendum following this month’s election results, she would look to make progress on a new border poll “only when the crisis of Covid has passed”.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s leaders are due to decide this week whether the next stage of easing can go ahead as planned on Monday.

The country reached the milestone of having given more than one million people at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday.

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