Boris Johnson has ditched plans for an “amber watchlist” of countries for overseas travel – just hours after a junior minister confirmed the idea was being considered.
The prime minister said that he wanted to see a system that was “as simple and as user-friendly” as possible, and HuffPost UK understands that there will be no extra categories on the traffic-light system.
Earlier, digital minister Matt Warman had said there would be “a spectrum of countries ranging from green to red”, each with different levels of risk for holidaymakers or those visiting family and friends.
An “amber watchlist”, which would put a country on notice that it could quickly go red with compulsory 10-day hotel quarantine, would be better than having “simply three cut and dried categories” or green, amber and red, Warman said.
But Johnson appears to have caved in to growing anger among Tory MPs and the travel industry, who had warned that adding categories would lead to further confusion and costs for those planning trips abroad.
Asked whether he personally backed an “amber watchlist” category, Johnson told reporters: “What I want to see is something that is as simple and as user-friendly for people as possible.”
His words were swiftly interpreted as the death knell for the idea, given the ridicule over the prospect of having six different traffic light colours: green, green watchlist, amber, amber plus, amber watchlist and red.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps is due to give his latest three-weekly update on the travel list this Thursday, when France is expected to be removed from the “amber plus” category that forces even double-jabbed people into a 5-day home isolation.
With Labour hammering the Tories over the “pingdemic” as well as the chaos over last-minute changes to travel rules, the government separately announced it was tweaking the NHS Covid app to get fewer people to self-isolate.
“I understand that people care very much about their holidays, people want to go abroad, I understand how much people plan, prepare, for the summer holidays,” the PM said.
“But we have also got to remember this is still a dangerous virus and we must try and stop variants coming in, must stop importing variants from abroad, so we have to have a balanced approach.”
Under current rules, travel from a green list country is quarantine free, travel from an amber list country is quarantine free for all those who are double-jabbed.
There is already a green watchlist category, which means a country can at short notice be moved into the amber list, but with double-jabbed people exempt from amber travel
“I don’t accept it is complicated in a way that is not something that people can apply their common sense,” Warman told SkyNews.
“Saying to people, if a country is on a watch list there is a risk that it could for instance move from green to amber or amber to red, seems to me to be providing people with really important information when they’re making significant financial decisions because people are, of course really keen to get away for a holiday if they can.”
Asked about the confusion caused by the proposed six different categories for countries, Warman replied: “I think you’re going to be hearing more from the transport secretary later on this week about the details of that and I didn’t want to preempt those announcements, but what you’re describing is a spectrum of countries ranging from green to red.
“And I think providing people some indication of the fact that it is not simply three cut and dried categories, actually is giving people more information, it’s helpful information, and it’s what allows them to make some really important decisions.
“The point of the watch list that you refer to is to try and give people a sense of the direction of travel that a country is going in, it’s to try and provide people with as much information as possible when they make those decisions about where they might want to go on holiday.”
But Huw Merriman, Tory chairman of the Commons transport committee, told BBC Radio 4’s The Westminster Hour: “An amber watchlist will be viewed as a massive red flag which is likely to cause bookings to those countries on that watchlist to collapse.
“In my view, we don’t need any more uncertainty, complexity, or anxiety for passengers, or this beleaguered sector. It just needs clarity. I would urge the government not to do anything with it.”
The Sunday Times reported this weekend that Chancellor Rishi Sunak wrote to Boris Johnson to warn that the UK’s entry and exit rules are “out of step with our international competitors” and are hurting the economy.