Ministers accused of ‘U-turns and confusion’ over international travel rules

·3-min read
Passengers in the international arrivals hall at Terminal 2 of London Heathrow Airport (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Wire)
Passengers in the international arrivals hall at Terminal 2 of London Heathrow Airport (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Wire)

Boris Johnson faced claims his system for international travel is in “chaos” after proposals for a new “amber watchlist” category were abandoned.

The Prime Minister pledged to keep travel rules during the pandemic as simple as possible and senior sources ruled out the prospect of a new category.

Meanwhile, it has emerged the head of the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC), which advises on the travel rules, has quietly left her post without a successor being appointed.

The Government had been considering the new watchlist for nations at risk of being moved into the red group which requires hotel quarantine on return for 10 days at a cost of £1,750 for an adult.

But following a backlash by Tory MPs ministerial concerns and complaints from the travel industry, Government sources confirmed there would be “no amber watchlist”.

Government minister Gillian Keegan told Times Radio: “We have explored all options, looked at all options, but the most important thing is that the system is actually simple enough for people to understand.”

The skills minister acknowledged “there was a lot of discussion about these kind of different categories potentially being more complex and more difficult for people to navigate”.

Travel expert Paul Charles, director of The PC Agency consultancy, said he expected further changes to the rules, claiming “high level” sources had told him the “amber plus” and “green watchlist” categories would also be dropped.

“There needs to be more simplicity and a reduced testing regime,” he said.

Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon demanded the data behind the Government’s decisions on travel rules.

“The Tories are in total chaos over their border policy, with days of confusion surrounding their plans for an amber watchlist,” he said.

“Not only have ministers failed to protect our borders, allowing the Delta variant to reach the UK in such force, but time and time again they’ve refused to be straight with the public and industry to provide them with the information they need to build confidence, with clear information on the direction of travel of infections in each country.

“Ministers need to get a grip and set out a proper strategy, provide full data and progress work with global partners on international vaccine passports so travellers and the industry can have the maximum clarity, instead of reckless​ U-turns and confusion.”

Ms Keegan also confirmed that Clare Gardiner had left her role as director general of the JBC.

Asked on LBC to confirm if Dr Gardiner has resigned, Ms Keegan said: “Yes I believe that she has.

“I mean I don’t have any responsibility for that area, but you know, all of these things – there is a group of experts who are basically there that are looking at data, analysing data and then giving advice to the Government, and so I guess they will be looking for a new chair.”

A DHSC spokesperson said: “The Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) is part of the UK Health Security Agency and is led professionally by the Chief Executive.

“The former Director General (DG) has returned as planned to a role in national security.

“The JBC continues to operate routinely under robust interim arrangements.

“A formal open competitive recruitment process has concluded and the new DG will be announced imminently.”

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