Sunak warns over UK’s ‘out of step’ travel rules

Coronavirus economic impact updates

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned Boris Johnson that the UK’s border rules are harming the economy and risk putting the country “out of step” with its international competitors, ahead of an expected announcement on travel restrictions later this week.

According to a report in the Sunday Times, Sunak used the letter to the prime minister to voice concerns over the economic impact of travel restrictions on sectors such as tourism and hospitality and argued the UK has failed to take advantage of its vaccination programme. Up to July 30, around 46.8m people — 88.5 per cent of all adults — have now had their first jab. 

The government is expected to provide an update on the traffic light travel list on Thursday. Ministers are due to assess the latest coronavirus data from the Joint Biosecurity Centre early this week.

According to the current rules, people with two doses of the coronavirus vaccine returning to England from amber list countries such as Italy do not have to quarantine. Those returning from red list countries are required to undergo multiple coronavirus tests and stay in hotel quarantine. 

Under new guidance issued last week and set to come into effect on Monday, foreign travellers from amber list countries who have been fully vaccinated in the EU and the US with vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency or the US Food and Drug Administration will be able to enter England, Scotland and Wales without quarantining. 

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Despite the recent loosening of travel rules, concerns have grown that more countries may soon be placed under tighter restrictions. Sixteen countries have been placed on a “green watchlist” meaning that they are at risk of being moved into amber. 

Last week, UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab refused to rule out the creation of an “amber watchlist” which would see holiday hotspots such as Spain — which has a case rate of 353 per 100,000 — at heightened risk of increased restrictions. 

Over the weekend, backbench Tory MPs called on the government to provide safeguards for Britons travelling abroad, ensuring that people who fly out of the country under one set of rules, are not faced with a new set of rules upon their return, amid concerns that the prospect of constantly changing rules has unsettled travellers.

Sir John Hayes, who leads the Common Sense group of Tory MPs, told the Mail on Sunday: ‘It is really important holidaymakers know where they stand. The worst in the world would be if you have flown somewhere and find you will not be able to get back except at significant cost.’

Meanwhile, some have questioned the public health implications of lifting international travel rules. Labour, for example, have argued that throughout the pandemic, the UK’s border policy has been inadequate and have called for a more robust strategy, taking into account measures such as airport testing and international passport schemes.

“We’re really concerned about making sure that new variants do not come into the UK and that we do have a system that identifies where we have variants of Covid where infection is and we’re able to isolate it”, said the party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner on a recent trip to Hull. 

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