The Government’s most politically challenging travel list turns out to be amber

26 May

For many people, May 17 was an exciting date – not only signalling that we could go inside a pub again, but giving people the chance to go abroad too. That’s until the Government released its “green” travel list of safe destinations to visit.

Only 12 countries made the cut, but some of them were/ are so difficult to get into that they might as well have been on the “red” list. 

It turns out, however, that the holiday list causing the most political controversy is “amber”, which lots of people took as an indication they could go abroad. Thousands of Brits, in fact, booked holidays in amber countries, including France, Greece, Spain and the US, only to find out that they shouldn’t have under the guidelines.

The Government has given fairly mixed messages on the subject. George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, said people could go to amber list countries to see friends, so long as they quarantined upon their return. (Currently anyone who goes to an amber destination has to take Coronavirus tests and self-isolate for 10 days at home. If they leave, they face a fine of up to £10,000.)

But soon afterwards, the Prime Minister warned that an amber country “is not somewhere where you should be going on holiday”, and added that the only suitable explanations were “pressing family or [an] urgent business reason”. Keir Starmer grilled him on this in last week’s PMQs, saying: “I think everybody would agree that, having moved 170 countries to the amber list, absolute clarity is needed about the circumstances in which people can travel to an amber country.”

Starmer had a point (and it’s not often that this happens). It seems that the Government might as well have placed these countries on the red list, too, for all the trouble caused by uncertainty. Travel insiders have said that the lack of clarity is damaging – and several companies have refused refunds to customers who’ve booked holidays to amber destinations, only to find out that it’s not feasible.

Hopefully in the next few weeks the Government will be able to give more clarity to the situation. The next review is on June 7, a fortnight before more lockdown restrictions are lifted. Grant Shapps has suggested today that islands to which there are direct flights, including Mykonos and Ibiza, could be added to the list for quarantine-free travel next month.

There’s even more pressure on the Government to speed up after the EU revealed it would be introducing a bloc-wide EU Digital Covid Certificate on July 1 – to ensure that people can move around quickly. Travel organisations hope that this will encourage the Government to be more flexible.

At the same time, it has been criticised for not being tough enough on border control (Dominic Cummings said in his hearing that the controls are “deja vu all over again”). Trying to navigate this area is intensely complex, not least because it also relies on other countries’ travel requirements – and the status of the vaccine around the world. Yes, the amber system has caused big problems – but it’s a fallacy to think there are simple answers to travel.