Downing Street has urged Britons not to take holidays in so-called amber list countries including France and Spain, but declined to explain why it remains legal for people to do so.
Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said the advice was that people should not travel to these destinations for leisure, but did not say why travel companies were being permitted to sell holidays to them.
“Our advice is that no one should be travelling to amber list countries, in the interests of public health,” he said when asked why amber list holidays were on sale. “There may be unavoidable, essential reasons for people to travel to amber list countries.”
Under the new coronavirus rules for travel that came into force on Monday, people can holiday in a dozen green list destinations including Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel, People who return to the UK from green list countries have to take Covid tests before travelling and within two days of return, but do not need to quarantine.
Just over 40 places are on the red list, connected to the prevalence of Covid variants, and UK nationals who travel back from these are obliged to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days. Other arrivals from these places are barred.
All other countries, including the bulk of popular holiday destinations for UK travellers, are on the amber list. Travellers must take tests before they head to the UK and twice on return, and quarantine at home for 10 days.
Government advice says travel to amber list countries should only happen for work or for a small number of urgent reasons. However, it is not illegal to take holidays to them and people cannot be punished for doing so.
Asked why it was legal, Johnson’s spokesperson said only: “Amber countries are effectively the default that countries are put in, beyond the small number of green list countries we have, where we have identified it is safe to travel to, and the red list, where we are banning travel because of concerns such as variants.”
Pressed about the discrepancy between the advice and the law, he said: “Like I say, we don’t want the public to travel to amber list countries. There are a small number of reasons why people can travel.”
When asked again, he said: “We don’t want people to go on holiday to amber list countries. The rules are set out very clearly.”
Downing Street is facing significant pressure from the travel industry and from some Conservative MPs to expand the green list so people can take summer holidays.
However, scientists are warning that more widespread travel could help bring in new cases of concerning variants such as that first identified in India. Fears about the greater transmissibility of the Indian variant has put into question plans to remove many lockdown restrictions next month, and could even lead to some easing measures introduced on Monday being reversed.