Prime minister Boris Johnson has responded to chancellor Rishi Sunak’s call for the government to ease its travel restrictions, insisting he wants as "simple" and "user-friendly rules" as possible while guarding against the risks posed by new variants of Covid-19.
Johnson’s comments, in which he refuted the current rules were overcomplicated, came during a visit to Airbus’s new headquarters in Stevenage on Monday (2 August), just a day after Sunak’s comments – addressed to the PM in a letter – made national headlines at the weekend and into this week.
In his letter, Sunak warned the PM the rules risked further damage to the UK economy and its travel and tourism sector, as well as what remains of another heavily truncated summer holiday season – one during which many travel firms will now face a fight for survival.
Quizzed by reporters on the prospect of a new "amber watchlist", which would in effect create sixth traffic light category along with green, green watchlist, amber, "amber plus" and red, Johnson said balancing risk against people’s freedoms would be key.
"I understand people care very much about their holidays," said Johnson. "People want to go abroad, I understand how much people plan, prepare, for the summer holidays.
"But we have also got to remember this is still a dangerous virus and we must try and stop variants coming in, [we] must stop importing variants from abroad, so we have to have a balanced approach.
"What I want to see is something that is as simple and as user-friendly for people as possible."
Johnson added double vaccination "offered the way forward", and stressed he did not believe the UK was squandering its so-called "vaccine dividend" by acting too slowly on travel. He said the UK economy, and UK society, was "about the most open in Europe".
It comes, though, after the government was widely criticised by travel for allowing the EU to steal a march on the UK by successfully opening up internally through mutual recognition of testing and vaccination, now enshrined in the EU Digital Covid Certificate Scheme.
The UK last week announced it would lift quarantine for fully vaccinated arrivals from the EU and US, rules which came into effect on Monday (2 August).