Government urged to rethink air bridges as EU scheme to open borders risks undermining plan

Charles Hymas
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The Government was under pressure to rethink its air bridges plan after the EU unveiled a list of countries whose tourists could undermine the scheme.

EU ambassadors agreed a list of 15 non-EU countries for which border controls could be lifted from July 1, enabling travellers from “low risk” countries including Algeria, Japan, China, Rwanda, Thailand, Morocco and Tunisia to fly freely into Europe.

Holiday experts and officials admitted it opened potential loopholes that could allow tourists from the 15 nations to use the Government’s planned air bridges in Europe to enter the UK, sidestepping the requirement to quarantine for 14 days.

The UK’s locator form which all arrivals are expected to complete only requires their port of arrival, the country from which they took the airline, train or ferry to arrive in the UK and passport details, not the country of origin.

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Henry Smith, the Conservative chair of the cross party Future of Aviation Group, said: “It starts to beg the question as to whether we should have a broader opening up rather than bilateral corridors.”

On Friday, BA, EasyJet and Ryanair will bring their case in the High Court seeking to overturn the Government’s entire quarantine policy which they claim is “irrational and disproportionate.”

The Government is expected to unveil its list of more than 50 countries which it proposes should have “air bridges” that will exempt holidaymakers from self-isolating for 14 days in the UK on Thursday. Most Western European nations and the British territories are expected to be on it.

Paul Charles, a spokesman for the Quash Quarantine campaign group of 500 travel and hospitality businesses, said: “The policy of travel corridors is going to have holes in it as you cannot create a watertight system unless you stop all travel.

“Europe is in effect dictating to us. Unless the UK closes itself off from the rest of Europe, it is going to be impossible to keep these visitors out. We are connected to Europe and if Europe opens up, we open up too because of the nature of the transport links including ferry and rail.”

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Other countries on the EU list of 15 include Australia, Canada, Georgia, Montenegro, New Zealand, Serbia, South Korea, Uruguay, San Marino, Andorra and Monaco. 

Chinese tourists would be allowed only if Chinese authorities also allowed in EU visitors. The United States, Russia and Brazil are excluded because of their high Coronavirus rates.

Italy say it is opting out of opening its borders to the non-EU countries although it is still keen for an air bridge with the UK.

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However, Andrew Flintham, managing director of TUI, Britain’s biggest holiday firm, warned that some other countries might follow Greece in banning British travellers because of concerns over the UK’s higher Coronavirus rate.

“There’s still going to be a few bumps in the road,” he said. “I think there will still be some countries that won’t be opening up which means we will be cancelling a few more holidays.”

British Airways, Easyjet and Ryanair were among airlines that yesterday announced the cancellation of planes to Greece until July 15 when the Greeks will review their decision to suspend UK flights.

A Government source said the aim of public health measures was to target the country from which people originated and Border Force could legitimately ask them to quarantine.