Rishi Sunak has written to Boris Johnson warning that the UK’s travel restrictions are “out of step” in comparison to other countries, reports suggest.
According to the Sunday Times newspaper, the chancellor has raised concerns with the prime minister about the damage that the current border controls are doing to the UK’s economy and has called for holiday rules to be relaxed.
Mr Sunak is said to have emphasised in particular the impact that the international travel rules are having on the tourism and hospitality sector and noted that the success of the country’s vaccination programme should warrant a weakening of the restrictions.
A No 10 source did not deny the PM had received a letter from the chancellor, but said the correspondence was not related to next week’s travel review – due to take place on Thursday.
It comes as a group of UK airline bosses have written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps calling for the government to reduce the “still onerous and increasingly disproportionate burden of testing on travellers” and to move more countries to be added to the government’s green list.
Signatories of the letter include the chief executive of Airlines UK, Virgin Atlantic, easyJet, British Airways, Jet2, Loganair, Ryanair and TUI.
“The world has changed since the inception of the traffic light system, and ‘green status’ should increasingly become a default, given the changing risk equation, and mirroring the approach to domestic restrictions,” the letter states.
“On this basis there is no reason why, and it is essential, that much of Europe including the key volume markets, the US, Caribbean and other major markets, cannot turn green next week in time for the remainder of the summer peak.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We have committed to reviewing travel lists every three weeks and any decisions are taken by ministers based on the latest risk assessment from the JBC.
“We continue to work with the travel industry and private testing providers to further reduce testing costs.”
Many holidaymakers in the UK will hope that the new rules announced this week, which will be in place for most of August, will include the movement of more countries to the amber and green lists.
The government has faced increased criticism over its travel policy in recent weeks since placing France on the new, “amber-plus” list.
The move means travellers returning from France will still have to quarantine for 10 days regardless of vaccination status.
Ministers said the decision was due to the increasing prevalence of the Beta variant of coronavirus in France.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said this was a particular problem “in the Reunion bit of France” – Reunion being 6,000 miles away from Paris.
But the transport secretary later clarified that concerns regarding the variant also apply to northern France.
A French minister referred to this decision as “excessive” and accused the UK government of not following the science.
There have been suggestions that France could be moved back to the official “amber” list in the next review on 5 August, which would mean travellers could skip the isolation period if they have received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine.
There is also speculation that Spain could take over France’s position on the “amber-plus” list in what would be a blow for returning travellers who would have to quarantine for 10 days on their return even if double-jabbed.
No 10 has said it is too early to speculate on what changes could be made but expressed the PM’s desire to see more travel restrictions lifted.
Labour’s transport secretary Jim McMahon called on the government to “get a grip and bring this summer of chaos to an end”.
“The Tories are in chaos over their border policy with families stuck between the prime minister and the chancellor who are in open disagreement,” he said.
“Rishi Sunak’s latest self-promotion campaign will just create more anxiety for people. Rather than brief the Sunday newspapers against each other, the Tories need to get a grip and bring this summer of chaos to an end.
“Not only have ministers failed to protect our borders, allowing COVID cases to rocket – they also refuse to be straight with the public and give them the information they need to book travel with confidence, with clear information on the direction of travel of infections in each country.
“Families who have booked holidays in good faith now risk losing out – 10-day quarantine is simply not an option for many people who are already struggling financially thanks to the pandemic.”
Last week, the government also announced that fully-vaccinated travellers from the US and Europe – with the exception of France – will be able to travel to the UK quarantine-free.