Controversial government amber watchlist proposals have been shelved in the face of a travel industry backlash and opposition from many Tory MPs.
Boris Johnson killed off the idea after warnings that it might have forced hundreds of thousands of British holidaymakers to cancel peak summer trips.
The change of stance came after the prime minister said he wanted to create a system that was “as simple and user-friendly for people as possible”, as the government prepared to update its traffic-light ratings for travel on Thursday.
Allies of Johnson confirmed to the Financial Times that the mooted amber watchlist – under which a country could be designated as being at risk of moving to the red list at short notice – had been abandoned.
This was confirmed by government sources to a range of consumer media outlets amid growing opposition to the idea.
The U-turn was welcomed by the travel industry, with Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade describing its as “excellent news”.
“This is a victory for common sense,” he said. “The PM has hit the nail on the head – people want a clear and consistent travel system that they can understand and that is workable.”
Alderslade tweeted: “Now we need to push on and ensure we get more countries onto the green list this week.
“It’s the last chance saloon now for the summer season with this review period covering the rest of August, so even more critical than usual.”
Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo-Bue Said said scrapping plans for an amber watchlist before it is implemented “would certainly make some logical sense”.
She added on a tweet: “Green, green, green should be the PM’s focus if he wants really to make a difference.”
Lo-Bue-Said also tweeted: “If the PM truly wants to save holidays he needs to remove onerous tests, including pre-departure for vaccinated. Green needs to be expanded and the constant contempt shown to the travel industry recognised. Confidence remains at an all time low despite success of the vaccine.”
As many as ten countries are expected to be added to the green list this week, although none are likely to be mainstream European summer sun destinations
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon called on the government to publish the data behind its decisions and provide “maximum clarity” to passengers and the travel industry.
He said clear information about what was happening with infections in each country was needed to build confidence about travel.
McMahon said: “Not only have ministers failed to protect our borders, allowing the Delta variant to reach the UK in such force, but time and time again they’ve refused to be straight with the public and industry.”
Commons transport select committee chairman Huw Merriman welcomed the scrapping of the amber watchlist.
“To deliver confidence and stability, the traffic light system needs to be red, amber and green, and nothing in between,” he said.
Tory MPs and the travel industry had strongly criticised the amber watchlist idea – a sixth category in the traffic light system – with media reports suggesting that popular destinations, including Spain and Italy, could have ended up being included.
The industry had warned that people with trips booked to amber watchlist countries may have cancelled their trip rather than risk the high cost of hotel quarantine. There would have been a scramble for flights home before their destination was moved to the red list for those already on holiday.
Henry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley and chair of the all-party future of aviation group, told the FT that an amber watchlist would have added “complexity and uncertainty” and “significantly put people off” international travel.