Theresa May has lashed out at the government's Covid travel policy, saying the UK is "no further forward" one year after the pandemic hit — despite more than half of UK adults receiving two doses of a vaccine.
The former prime minister suggested Britain is beginning to fall behind Europe in reopening its borders to travellers. She said the UK is sending a message to the rest of the world that "global Britain is shut for business".
Ms May's comments in a debate on the aviation industry in the House of Commons on Thursday came as an expert warned quarantine-free travel to the UK from mainland Europe or the US will not be permitted before late July.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said the reopening of travel had been "sacrificed by ministers watching their backs".
Elsewhere, British Airways announced it had furloughed thousands of its staff, citing delays to travel as the reason behind its decision.
The airline confirmed on Thursday that a large number of its workers - including management staff - have been put back onto the scheme.
The UK is currently operating a travel "traffic light" system in which countries are placed in green, amber or red categories depending, ministers claim, on how quickly the virus is spread through the respective populations.
Anyone arriving in the UK from amber or red list country must self-isolate.
Ms May said: “One year on we are no further forward, indeed what we have is a devastated industry, jobs lost and global Britain shut for business. More than not being any further forward, we’ve gone backwards."
She added: “We now have over 50 per cent of the adult population vaccinated – a wonderful programme – yet we’re more restricted on travel than we were last year."
Ms May also said that the government needed to be "upfront" with the British public that the virus is unlikely to ever be fully eradicated and that restrictions can't go on forever. If ministers block travel every time there is a new variant people might "never be able to travel abroad ever again", she added.
Boris Johnson is due to give an update on the last stage of England's lockdown easing on Monday, taking effect from 21 June.
That date, dubbed "freedom day" by some, is supposed to see most restrictions - including travel - removed. But there are fears the changes will be pushed back over rising cases of the Delta variant.