UK to consider relaxing travel restrictions from EU and US

Travel & leisure industry updates

The UK government will this week consider loosening travel restrictions for travellers from the EU and the US, with one senior airport executive confident that ministers would broaden quarantine exemptions “imminently”.

The move, which one government official said was “finely balanced”, would be a boost to the tourism sector and help to reopen the UK to mass foreign travel.

Ministers are separately looking at removing France from the newly created “amber plus” category, which requires travellers from the UK to quarantine upon their return, amid hopes that the Beta variant of the coronavirus in that country is coming under control.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s Europe minister, told Dominic Raab, UK foreign secretary, on Monday in Paris that there was no basis for keeping France on the amber plus list. Raab said decisions were reviewed regularly.

The first decision centres on a UK government review of the system for regulating foreign travel, which will conclude this week, and will consider whether fully vaccinated travellers from the EU and US will be able to avoid quarantine in Britain.

Government officials said it would be “easier” to apply looser rules to travellers from the EU, which has issued citizens with a digital health pass since the start of this month. One said: “Technically, we are pretty close.”

One said that granting the same waiver to US travellers was more complicated because “their system is largely paper-based and is operated by 50 states”.

One senior airport executive was confident that ministers would broaden quarantine exemptions to double-jabbed US and EU visitors “imminently”, with transport operators expected to check passengers’ certification before check-in.

Ministers are said by officials to be considering whether to act unilaterally “as a gesture of goodwill”, but there is no sign that the US is about to reciprocate.

On Monday, the White House confirmed it would maintain its travel ban on the UK and countries in the EU Schengen areas imposed by the then president, Donald Trump, in March 2020.

Lifting quarantine restrictions on EU travellers, or those from the US, would open the door for easier travel back to Britain for expat UK citizens.

But it would create an anomaly concerning France, which was this month placed on a new “amber plus” travel list, where even double-jabbed British tourists have to quarantine on their return.

If vaccinated European travellers were exempt from UK quarantine rules, they could enter Britain freely while a Briton on a day trip to Calais would still have to self-isolate.

Ministers are reported by senior Tories to be ready to put France back on the standard amber list, where vaccinated Britons only have to take a test on their return, as the Delta variant replaces the Beta strain as the most dominant form of the virus.

This week’s review of the travel policy is expected to be the last before October, meaning that the rules announced will be in place for the rest of the crucial summer holiday season.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said the UK should aim to open up to EU and US vaccinated travellers at the end of July.

“The UK is emerging from the worst effects of the health pandemic, but is falling behind its EU rivals in international trade by being slow to remove restrictions,” he said.

Both the airline industry and Abta, which represents travel agents, have written to transport secretary Grant Shapps in the past week calling for a further easing of travel restrictions and more financial support for the industry.

“It is increasingly clear that the government is failing to provide the predictability and stability required to rebuild consumer confidence and bring about the necessary conditions for a recovery,” said Luke Petherbridge, Abta’s director of public affairs.

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