UK

Travel rules farce after France quarantine kept over Beta variant

Fears were raised of a European ‘travel war’ today amid a bitter row over the UK’s restrictions on France – and Italy refusing to exempt Brits from quarantine. 

Dominic Raab sparked a furious backlash after claiming that France was hit with ‘amber plus’ quarantine rules because of Covid cases on Reunion island 6,000 miles away.

But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted this morning that the Foreign Secretary was wrong to make the connection yesterday, amid a furious reaction from Paris.

Meanwhile, Spain is believed to be at risk of being moved up the ‘traffic light’ system in a review next week.

And as tensions rise, Italy is reportedly not reciprocating the get-out granted by Britain, meaning vaccinated holidaymakers will still need to isolate on arrival.

There are claims that EU leaders are resisting easing rules for Britons partly out of ‘frustration’ with the standoff over Brexit. 

In other helter-skelter coronavirus developments today:

  • More than 50 Tory MPs are threatening to vote against the government’s ”misguided’ plans for compulsory vaccine passports; 
  • An exclusive poll for MailOnline found Britons overwhelmingly back barring vaccine refusers from pubs, restaurants, nightclubs and non-essential shops; 
  • Ministers have been warned that travellers could face five-hour queues when Britain opens up to the US and most of the EU next week. 

The UK's travel rules descended into farce today as ministers dismissed Dominic Raab's claim that France was hit with 'amber plus' quarantine rules because of Covid cases on Reunion island 6,000 miles away

The UK’s travel rules descended into farce today as ministers dismissed Dominic Raab’s claim that France was hit with ‘amber plus’ quarantine rules because of Covid cases on Reunion island 6,000 miles away

A senior government source also slapped down Mr Raab (pictured yesterday), insisting that he had been wrong

A senior government source also slapped down Mr Raab (pictured yesterday), insisting that he had been wrong

In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Shapps said the decision had been down to 'overall concern' about France, not the situation on Reunion

In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Shapps said the decision had been down to ‘overall concern’ about France, not the situation on Reunion

Pingdemic pressure on Boris as Labour demands exemption for double-jabbed from August 7 

Boris Johnson is under mounting pressure today to end the ‘Pingdemic’ by bringing forward the date for exempting fully vaccinated people from self-isolation rules.

Keir Starmer has joined calls to bring the August 16 timetable forward to August 7 – pointing out that is what Wales has chosen to do. 

Scotland is also due to remove the requirement for the double-jabbed who come into contact with positive cases from August 9 – but the PM has refused to budge despite stricken businesses warning of food shortages.

In a round of interviews this morning, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps reiterated that there is no intention of changing the date, although he admitted: ‘We are being, if you like, slightly cautious about it.’   

However, Sir Keir said in a statement: ‘This has been a summer of chaos for British businesses and British families. 

‘The Tory government has never been able to explain the logic of their self-isolation rules and has just repeated the same mistakes over and over again.

He added: ‘The Government’s slapdash approach to this global pandemic is crippling our economy and creating real problems for businesses and families alike. Welsh Labour has shown what can be done and it’s time for the Tories to do the same.’ 

The decision on France two weeks ago led to thousands of fully-vaccinated holidaymakers having to self-isolate for ten days on their return.

The diplomatic spat escalated over recent days after the country was excluded from a UK quarantine exemption for travellers who have been double-jabbed in the EU.   

French Europe minister Clement Beaune yesterday branded the UK’s stance towards his country ‘excessive and frankly baffling’.

‘If I understood correctly, this is being done in the name of the famous Beta variant, the South African variant, which represents less than 5 per cent of cases in France, most of which are in our overseas territories that are not affected by the same flows of people towards the UK,’ he said.

In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Shapps said the decision had been down to ‘overall concern’ about France, not the situation on Reunion. 

‘The Beta variant, it’s not just – as has been reported – on an island thousands of miles away. It was also an issue in particular in northern France, so it has been an overall concern,’ he told Sky News.

‘And look, the big concern is that we don’t allow a variant in which somehow is able to escape the vaccine programme that we have got.’

Mr Shapps said a decision on France’s status will be taken ‘by this time next week’ as part of the regular travel list update every three weeks.

Asked if there could be a change before then, the minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘No, it’s only six days away actually, so I wouldn’t expect anything in advance of that, but it is the moment at which this will be looked at.’

Pushed on whether that meant no move on Spain before then, Mr Shapps said: ‘That’s right. I would encourage people to broadly ignore the sort of ongoing speculation as much as is possible.’

He added: ‘One thing I have seen over the last year with all this going on is that, quite often, the speculation is not all that helpful, or all that accurate indeed.

‘When we get the information from the Joint Biosecurity Centre, that’s the first point at which it really becomes clarified.’

A senior government source also slapped down Mr Raab, insisting that he had been wrong.

The source said: ‘Ministers took this decision based on data on the prevalence of the Beta variant in mainland France.’ They added: ‘This data did not include La Reunion.’

Mr Raab’s comments led to fresh criticism of the Government’s decision, which many are hoping will be reversed next week.  

French Europe minister Clement Beaune yesterday branded the UK's stance towards his country 'excessive and frankly baffling'

French Europe minister Clement Beaune yesterday branded the UK’s stance towards his country ‘excessive and frankly baffling’

Major Tory revolt over vaccine passports 

More than 50 Tory MPs are prepared to vote against the government’s ‘misguided’ vaccine passport plan and said they are ‘horrified’ by the possible curbs on individual freedoms.

Boris Johnson had announced that certificates proving double vaccinations will be needed to enter nightclubs and potentially other venues and universities from the end of September.

But many Conservatives are prepared to rebel against the ‘completely unnecessary, bureaucratic and unworkable’ proposals, with as many as 50 MPs threatening to vote against them if they go to a vote.

Despite the huge scale of the revolt, there are signs it will be pointless as Labour has indicated it is unlikely to oppose the proposals if they include a provision for tests to be used as well as vaccine status.  

It comes after the government was accused of introducing passports by stealth after the NHS App was updated with ‘domestic’ and ‘travel’ options for Britons to prove their vaccination status. 

But there are also growing concerns that even if France is removed from the amber-plus list, Spain could be added because of rising cases there.

The remote island is nearly 5,800 miles (9,334km) away from Paris and when this was pointed out during an interview yesterday, Mr Raab said: ‘It’s not the distance that matters, it’s the ease of travel between different component parts of every individual country.’

The Beta variant is a cause for concern because it is believed to be more resistant to the AstraZeneca vaccine. A spokesman for Brittany Ferries said: ‘This is madness. It would be like France hammering British holidaymakers due to a Covid outbreak on the Falkland Islands.

‘It makes you wonder if those in the centre of power have access to an atlas or a geography GCSE between them.’

Paul Charles, of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: ‘One has to question how long we will have to put up with poor political decision-making which is threatening people’s livelihoods and jobs. France should be removed from the ridiculous amber-plus category quickly as it poses no major threat.’

Layla Moran, chairman of the all-party Parliamentary group on coronavirus, said: ‘Ministers should have clear justifications for any changes made with regards to international travel. This slapdash approach will only continue to undermine public confidence.’ 

No 10 has continued to insist the decision to place France on the amber-plus list had no relation to La Reunion. It said the Government used data which said that Beta cases in mainland France stood at 5 per cent. 

France is the only EU country from which those vaccinated under the UK programme must self-isolate for ten days when they return. 

The decision is set to be reviewed next week and ministers are hopeful that the country could be removed from the list.

The Government is considering replacing amber-plus with a new ‘amber watchlist’ to deter people from travelling to areas with high Covid rates. 

The list would show which countries could change to ‘red’ at any moment, forcing travellers to pay £1,750 per adult to stay in quarantine hotels on their return. 

There are fears that Spain could be added to the amber watchlist next week.

Travellers could face FIVE-HOUR queues at airports when UK opens up to the US and EU on Monday as unions call for vaccine checks to be done ‘upstream’ to save Border Force

Airports could face five-hour queues when Britain opens up to the US and most of the EU next week, ministers have been warned.

Officials said staff should expect the staggering waiting times during peak hours after international travel restrictions are relaxed on Monday.

They called for vaccine checks to be done ‘upstream’ – at the border before people fly – to help out airport workers in the UK.

The Border Force union said there will be more queuing for passengers if they have to check the jab status of arrivals but did not think it would be ‘catastrophic’.

But the Department for Transport last night confirmed to MailOnline travellers would be checked before people fly to Britain.

England will allow US and EU travellers who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus to enter without the need to quarantine from Monday.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the new rules on Wednesday following intense pressure from the travel sector.

The Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Assembly followed the move.

But earlier this month the US State Department advised all Americans not to travel to the UK due to the Delta variant and this is not expected to change until August.

Officials said staff should expect the staggering waiting times during peak hours after international travel restrictions are relaxed on Monday. Pictured: Heathrow last weekend

Officials said staff should expect the staggering waiting times during peak hours after international travel restrictions are relaxed on Monday. Pictured: Heathrow last weekend

The Border Force union said there could be more queuing for passengers if they have to check the jab status of arrivals but did not think it would be 'catastrophic'. Pictured: Gatwick last weekend

The Border Force union said there could be more queuing for passengers if they have to check the jab status of arrivals but did not think it would be ‘catastrophic’. Pictured: Gatwick last weekend

The Department for Transport last night confirmed to MailOnline travellers would be checked before people fly. Pictured: Heathrow last weekend

The Department for Transport last night confirmed to MailOnline travellers would be checked before people fly. Pictured: Heathrow last weekend

UK officials warned ministers before the Covid-Operations committee’s move to open up travel it will cause a huge surge in arrivals.

They said it could lead to staggering queues of up to five hours at airports during peak times.

According to the Times, they called for vaccination checks to be done ‘upstream’ to limit pressure on Border Force workers.

But the enforcement agency’s union said they did not think the queues would be ‘catastophic’ depending on if they had to check vaccine passports.

A spokesman told MailOnline: ‘It depends on the traffic. All the resources we have are there but there will still be queues.

‘We don’t have fewer staff than before the pandemic but they are structured differently.

‘There are queues in normal years, that won’t be different. If we have to check vaccination certificates, which we’re not sure if we will have to, then it will be different.

‘The problem has been checking them at the border for the Department for Health.

‘There will be more waiting but it will not be catastrophic. It won’t be as bad as we have seen during the pandemic if we don’t have to check these documents.’

The Department for Transport last night said EU passengers will use an electronic system to show their vaccine status while in the US they have physical copies that will be checked by airlines before departure.

It will help speed up Border Force moving people through British airports when they land.


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