Ministers have been accused of sowing confusion over what foreign travel is permitted for people in England after sending out mixed messages relating to its traffic light system.
On Wednesday, the education minister, Gillian Keegan, urged people to be “sensible” and not travel to “amber list” countries for holidays, but her comments followed differing advice the day before.
Just 24 hours earlier, the environment secretary, George Eustice, stated on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that people could travel to amber list countries to see family and friends. However, shortly afterwards the prime minister clarified that people should only go to amber list countries for “some pressing family or urgent business reason”.
In the House of Lords on Tuesday night, the health minister Lord Bethell said people should not travel at all, even to green list countries. He said: “We do ask people, particularly as we go into the summer, travelling is not for this year, please stay in this country.”
And also on Tuesday, the Welsh secretary, Simon Hart, told Times Radio the public should ask themselves whether a trip to a country on the amber list was essential, before conceding that “some people might think a holiday is essential”.
On Wednesday morning, Keegan said travel to amber list destinations was supposed to be for “special circumstances” such as business or funerals but risked further confusion among the public by stressing – correctly – that the traffic light system was only advisory. Travelling to amber countries is not illegal and EasyJet and Tui have said they will offer holidays to places on the amber list.
“What we are saying is the amber list is not to go on holiday, not for pleasure travel at the moment,” Keegan told Sky News.
“It’s not in legislation, we haven’t legislated to ban people from going on holiday abroad. This is guidance. As with many of these things we have had throughout the pandemic this has been about relying on the great British public to be sensible and follow the guidance we have put in place and taking their own decisions really.
“But, no, we wouldn’t advise going on holiday to the amber list countries.”
Asked on Times Radio if people thinking of travelling to Spain were “doing the wrong thing”, she replied: “I have a house in Spain. I lived in Spain for eight years. I’m desperate to go to Spain.But right now, it’s not the time to go to Spain.”
The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, told Sky News the government’s messaging around international travel, including the introduction of the traffic light system on Monday, had been “confusing”.
He said: “I think people just want clarity. Because people want to do the right thing and there are people who will just want a holiday.”
Asked if he would go to a country on the amber list, Ashworth said: “No, no, I wouldn’t. At the moment I’m planning on going on holiday to Devon or Cornwall or somewhere, if I do get a holiday.”
He added: “Our borders have been about as secure as a sieve throughout this crisis and it’s why we are seeing these variants bounce at us. There’s probably going to be more of this as well, so we have got to work internationally to bring infection rates down and make sure the world is vaccinated. But we have also got to have secure borders and controls as well.”