European countries that have closed their doors to British citizens should open them to permit essential travel, the European Commission has said.
Ireland, Spain and Portugal were among around 40 countries that acted unilaterally to ban travel to and from Great Britain and Northern Ireland following the discovery of the new Covid variant, leading to many having their Christmas plans cancelled.
The countries’ actions prompted a critical response from the Commission in Brussels. It said non-essential travel to and from the UK “should be discouraged”, but added “essential travel and transit of passengers should be facilitated”.
A statement said: “Flight and train bans should be discontinued given the need to ensure essential travel and avoid supply chain disruptions.”
Commissioner for justice Didier Reynders said: “Given the current uncertainties and in light of the precautionary principle, member states should take coordinated action to discourage non-essential travel between the UK and the EU.
“At the same time, blanket travel bans should not prevent thousands of EU and UK citizens from returning to their homes.”
The statement explained that from 1 January, when the UK becomes “a third country” following Brexit, only essential travel from the UK should take place.
It said: “In order to benefit from an exemption from this general travel restriction, the Council would need to decide to add the United Kingdom to the list of third countries whose residents should not be affected by temporary external border restrictions on non-essential travel to the EU.”