Boris Johnson was on Thursday locked in a row with Nicola Sturgeon over quarantine as he prepared to unveil a list of more than 60 nations where holidaymakers will be exempt from restrictions on their return.
A preparatory draft list of 55 of the countries, seen by The Telegraph on Thursday night, where tourists will not need to quarantine on their return included popular tourist destinations such as France, Spain and Italy.
The Prime Minister plans to lift the Foreign Office’s ban on non-essential travel to the countries from next week but Scotland’s first minister was on Thursday refusing to sign off on a nationwide end to the blanket quarantine.
It means the exemptions might only apply to England,, leaving open the possibility that Ms Sturgeon could unilaterally impose restrictions on international arrivals after she expressed concern that easing quarantine risked increasing Covid-19 rates.
The date for lifting the restrictions has been put back to July 10 from Monday July 6, while the number of countries has been cut from 75 to around 60 at the last minute. “It has become an utter mess,” said a Government source.
Under the traffic light system, about half of the 60-plus countries will be rated low risk or “green” with people exempt from quarantine on their return to the UK, even if the countries like Australia and New Zealand impose restrictions.
The other half - rated “amber” risk - are based on bilateral reciprocal agreements such as France, Spain and Italy which have agreed to lift its quarantine on Briton so both nations’ tourists can travel freely.
The list of exempted countries rated “amber” or “green” covers nearly all of Europe, the British territories including Bermuda and Gibraltar, Turkey, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Singapore and some Caribbean islands.
All 60-plus have been judged by the Government’s biosecurity advisers to be sufficiently low risk for holidaymakers based on the prevalence of Covid-19, that their infection rate is in decline and that their data on the state of the disease can be trusted.
USA, Russia, Brazil and Sweden are among countries on a banned “red” list, which could also include Portugal because of outbreaks in and around Lisbon.
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, had earlier on Thursday accused Ms Sturgeon of obstructing and delaying the holiday getaway plan. The SNP claimed it was a “completely unfounded” allegation and accused the Government of numerous late changes to the list.
Ms Sturgeon warned that accepting travellers from countries with higher rates of Covid-19 without quarantine would “risk of bringing the infection back in.”
Pressed whether she would enforce a Scotland-only quarantine, she said: "If we end up in this position, we will have discussions about the practical implications of that as we go along.”
Scottish holidaymakers will be free to travel to “green” countries without facing any quarantine but they will face quarantine on their return from “amber” countries such as Spain and France even if they fly through English airports.
At least 19 of the exempted countries currently ban any travel from the UK or require British travellers to quarantine for up to 14 days on arrival due to the risk of Covid-19 from countries with higher rates.
The 19 include Greece, which suspended UK flights until July 15, Cyprus, Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Bermuda, Trinidad and Tobago, St Vincent and probably Ireland.
The announcement will be not only a major departure from the blanket quarantine introduced a month ago but also a move away from “air bridges” which were originally envisaged as bilateral agreements for restriction-free travel between countries.
Instead, the Government is effectively changing the travel advice and leaving it to holidaymakers to make their choices.
A preparatory draft list of 55 of the countries, seen by The Telegraph, includes: Latvia, San Marino, Poland, Austria, Norway, Italy, Hungary, Turkey, Switzerland, Netherlands, Liechtenstein, Cyprus, Malta, Iceland, Slovakia, Serbia, Germany, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Reunion, Australia, Finland, St Pierre and Miquelon, Andorra, NZ, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Gibraltar, Spain, Greece, St Kitts and Nevis, Martinique, Monaco, St Lucia, Canada, Wallis and Futuna, Trinidad and Tobago, Montenegro, Bermuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei, French Polynesia, Denmark, Belgium, Estonia, France, Malaysia, Ireland, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas and Barbados.