Is the UK’s holiday traffic light system ‘dead’?

Minister advises holidaymakers to make most of the ‘great places’ in Britain

(Image credit: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images)

Travel bosses have blasted the government over advice to would-be British holidaymakers to stay at home rather than heading off abroad.

In a fresh blow to hopes of summer breaks in foreign climes, Environment Secretary George Eustice said yesterday that Brits should “holiday at home” in order to minimise the spread of coronavirus variants including the Delta strain, which was first identified in India. Eustice told Sky News that “my advice to people would be holiday at home. We’ve got some great places here.”

Travel chiefs reacted with fury to the apparent government U-turn, with one chief executive saying that the UK’s traffic light system for foreign travel was effectively “dead”.

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“There’s no confidence in it from consumers or the travel sector and ministers are split over it,” Paul Charles, head of the PC Agency, told the broadcaster.

Would-be holidaymakers had been hoping that the government would broaden its so-called “green list” of countries that citizens can visit without quarantining on return. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the Financial Times last month that “I don’t think people have a very long time to wait before other countries are able to join the green list”.

But Eustice warned yesterday that “this was not the situation” any longer, because of the spread of Covid variants.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has accused ministers of “making up” travel policy as they go along. The government’s “stop, go, stop, go approach to travel is bonkers”, the head of Europe’s largest airline told Sky News.

“It's typical of Boris Johnson's government, just making this stuff up as they go along. There is no green list.”

Eustice's advice to holiday at home comes a week after the government announced that Portugal, a popular green-list destination, would be moved to the amber list - forcing many British holidaymakers to try to rush home in order to beat the quarantine deadline.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of trade body Airlines UK, argues that the UK authorities are being too risk-averse. “What happened to the risk-based, data-led approach, which seems to have survived all of three weeks? These comments betray a desire to stop Brits travelling anywhere abroad,” he told The Times.

The government's critics claim that the UK is moving in the wrong direction at a time when some European countries are reopening their doors to visitors. Spain, for example, is to allow Britons to enter the country without the need for a Covid test or proof of vaccination from Monday.

“It just beggars belief,” Travel Trade Gazette editor Sophie Griffiths told the BBC. “Especially as countries are opening up and Britain is closing down. People are just confused and frustrated about why that’s happening.”

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 Sorcha Bradley is a writer at The Week and a regular on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. She worked at The Week magazine for a year and a half before taking up her current role with the digital team, where she mostly covers UK current affairs and politics. Before joining The Week, Sorcha worked at slow-news start-up Tortoise Media. She has also written for Sky News, The Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard and Grazia magazine, among other publications. She has a master’s in newspaper journalism from City, University of London, where she specialised in political journalism.