UK looks to EU travel bubble plan

The UK Cabinet was reported to be planning to meet this week to discuss the criteria for agreeing a travel bubble with the EU27, which would remove the requirement for quarantining.

The claim came as a 14-day quarantine for visitors into England was introduced, described by one observer as “responsive policy-making on the hoof”.

It was thought unlikely that any travel agreements could be made soon. The Sun quoted one government figure as saying: “Designing international travel corridors is very complex, not least because they are a cross-Whitehall problem. The aim is to have the first ones in place by mid-July, and one with the EU will be the first.”

It was also rumoured that Foreign Office advice against all but essential international travel would be scrapped imminently.

Thomas Page, global head of hotel & leisure group, CMS, told us: “The quarantine rules on incoming visitors seems especially bizarre, on the basis that many have been questioning why there has been no restrictions at all on incoming travellers since the start of the lockdown, not even temperature tests, questions about symptoms or contact with others with Covid-19. When I flew to Italy on 14 February, they were already temperature testing then, even though the outbreak had not started there then.

“So to impose a full 14-day quarantine now is clearly a case of shutting the stable door. Ministers responding to questions about the reason, saying it is to prevent those coming from countries with high infection rates initiating a second wave seem oblivious to the fact that almost no other countries have higher infection rates than the UK.

“I read that there is talk of exempting the whole of the EU from these restrictions. But it would be bizarre if you can come from Spain, but not from New Zealand, which has just been declared entirely Covid-free.

“This seems like responsive policy-making on the hoof to appeal to a voter base, not to actually seek the optimum fine balance between protecting public health and stimulating economic recovery.”

Scotland has followed England into the quarantine, after checking that rules were compatible with European human rights legislation. The country will impose fines up to a maximum of £5000, against a possible £10,000 in England.

Humza Yousaf, Scottish justice secretary, said: “We are, as a country and across the world, continuing to deal with unprecedented challenges that this pandemic brings. These public health measures will play an important part in helping to prevent further spread of the disease.

“These steps are aimed at protecting people and ensuring that we limit spread when our own infection rates are falling. However, they are temporary and will not be in place any longer than deemed necessary to protect public health – as such, they will be reviewed after three weeks.”

On Friday IAG, Easyjet and Ryanair sent a pre-action protocol letter to the UK government. In a statement, the trio said: “These measures are disproportionate and unfair on British citizens as well as international visitors arriving in the UK. We challenge the UK government on a number of defective measures [including that the quarantine is] more stringent than the guidelines applied to people who actually have Covid-19.”

In a separate message to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Ryanair called on the leader to ditch what it described as “Ireland’s ineffective visitor quarantine” from the end of June, on the same day when the European Commission was calling on EU members to lift all EU border restrictions by the end of June.

The airline said: “For a visitor quarantine to be effective, inbound passengers at ports and airports need to be ‘detained’ at their point of arrival. The Irish government cannot and will not stop visitors from mixing on public transport or in supermarkets, by which time they could have spread the Covid virus all over the Irish bus or taxi network even before they arrive at their destination address. Ireland’s visitor quarantine is also defective as it completely excludes visitors from the UK which currently has the highest Covid infection rate in Europe.”

The quarantine came into force as the value of Rt, -  the average number of secondary infections due to a typical infection today - was over 1 at the median in the North West, according to the Cambridge/PHE Joint Modelling Team as of 3 June.


Insight: Anyone would think that the UK government had no idea what it was doing, as it brings in an quarantine just as it moots opening pubs and restaurants on 22 June. There is one guideline for UK residents, but one law for those who are returning or entering. And that law is far from pleasant, with no leaving the premises other than in ‘extreme’ circumstances. Still, you can press your face up against the window and watch everyone enjoy a pint.

There are various legal attempts underway to get shot of this staggering piece of nonsense, including from the Good Law Project, the people who pointed out to the Queen that someone’s pants were on fire back when being accountable to Parliament felt like something best avoided. But what seems most likely to topple it is that fallback Brits have come to rely on: Boris Johnson’s ego.

It’s all very well frothing the country up into a nationalistic fervour when you want to bail out of the EU, but the Brits do like to get out of the country from time to time and the summer, which is far from reliable in terms of weather, is that time. Johnson, who hates to be hated, will want to give his citizens that greatest of all gifts - the chance to get out. This behaviour is, reassuringly, from the Trump playbook: impose some horrible restriction, then act the great benefactor when you take it away again.

Fun though it is to play puppet master, in this case it is the livelihoods of many businesses in this sector - and all businesses which operate internationally - which are being hit by this latest psychodrama. The hope is that it will be over quickly and that the government will instead turn its attention to controlling the virus, as not doing so will cost both lives and the ability of people to travel to countries who have had more success during this pandemic.