Ministers have been sent a list of 45 countries to prioritise for quarantine-free ‘air bridges’, it emerged last night.
Airlines drew up the index last week at the request of the Government amid mounting fury over ‘unenforceable’ plans for a 14-day quarantine imposed on all arrivals.
The list, agreed by airlines including British Airways, Easyjet and Virgin Atlantic, includes favourite holiday destinations in Europe, such as France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece, along with the US and much of the Caribbean.
Last night Tory backbenchers said there was growing ‘horror’ at plans to subject visitors to the UK to blanket quarantine measures.
The full list of 45 countries that airlines want to prioritise for the quarantine-free 'air bridges'
A senior Tory said the plans did not have the support of ‘very large parts of the Cabinet’, adding: ‘There was a case for it in March, but there isn’t a case for it now.’ Officials are drawing up proposals which could allow quarantine-free travel to places chosen for popularity and economic importance.
Airlines want the first air bridges to be set up by the end of this month ‘at the latest’, sources said, raising fresh hopes for summer holidays abroad.
The blanket quarantine, which comes into force next Monday, has been criticised by Border Force, police leaders and Tory MPs who say it is riddled with loopholes.
Whitehall sources say the Home Office and Department for Transport are moving ‘at pace’ to establish quarantine-free travel corridors between countries. An industry source told the Mail: ‘A lot of [the list] is focused on short-haul leisure – popular holiday locations and places where people might fly to see friends and family. We’d want to see as many as possible set up by the end of the month.
‘The Government requested the airlines send it in, so they could have a sense of where the volume and demand would be. It’s quite a contrast to a week and a half ago, when Downing Street played down the idea of air bridges.’ They added the proposed list depends on countries wanting to set up an air bridge with the UK and the Foreign Office will have to drop its advice against all but essential global travel.
Airline and airport bosses are due to meet Government officials tomorrow when details of the quarantine plan will be unveiled.
Dining out: Customers in Greece – which is on the list – this weekend
A number of Tory MPs are revolting against the quarantine plans and Sir Graham Brady – chairman of the 1922 committee of backbenchers – has told Downing Street of their concerns. He said: ‘The fundamental objection to the quarantine proposal is that it makes no sense at all to have quarantine for travel from countries that have very low rates of infection or no infection.
‘At the very least, it should be possible to exclude a number of countries on that basis. Air bridges are a very sensible proposition.’
One senior Tory said: ‘I share concerns the quarantine plan will do such huge damage to the tourism industry, without necessarily making us much safer. It feels that it’s a bit too late and a bit strong.’
An ex-minister said: ‘There is growing horror on the backbench about this. It’s several weeks since it first arose that the Government was considering quarantine and we are no further forward as to how it actually gets introduced.’
Henry Smith, Tory MP and chairman of the Future of Aviation Group, said: ‘I don’t think quarantine is appropriate to be introduced in just over a week’s time. It will prolong damage to the aviation and travel industries. It’s well intentioned but not very effective so the idea of air bridges has merit and is worthy of exploration.’
Don’t let Britain get left behind
By Graham Brady and Paul Maynard
A fact that may surprise many is despite being a small island nation, the UK has the third largest aviation network. We are behind only the United States and China, and the biggest in Europe.
Our world-class airlines and airports are proud to support the UK’s global connectivity and the industry contributes over a million jobs across the country.
The sheer scale of the sector, however, is impossible to realise at present as airlines have had to ground their operations.
Sir Graham Brady MP (left) is chairman of the 1922 Committee and Paul Maynard MP (right) is a former aviation minister
While we are seeing other nations announce their intention to reopen their borders, the UK has appeared to turn the other way, declaring a 14-day quarantine for inbound passengers.
If this is to be implemented, it must be in place for no longer than necessary.
This is important not only for the long-term impacts on our aviation and tourism sectors but its disproportionate effect on our position as a proud trading nation.
It will be impossible to get goods to market if people are forced to self-isolate for two weeks upon arrival into the UK.
'While we are seeing other nations announce their intention to reopen their borders, the UK has appeared to turn the other way, declaring a 14-day quarantine for inbound passengers,' say Sir Graham Brady MP and Paul Maynard MP
So what way forward? The Government has accepted the concept of ‘air bridges’, which would enable certain countries to travel without the need for quarantine.
UK airlines have set out 45 destinations for quarantine-free air bridges. We urge the Government to establish these as soon as possible. We cannot afford to get left behind. France and Greece have recently announced plans to drop some border controls from June 15.
The Government must be working towards an approach which can ensure public health requirements are met while allowing the industry to get back to doing what it does best – connecting goods and people and creating jobs.
There is not a second to lose.
Sir Graham Brady MP is chairman of the 1922 Committee and Paul Maynard MP is a former aviation minister