Fully vaccinated UK holidaymakers could be given the green light by EU ambassadors to visit the bloc this summer, but there is confusion over the government’s policy on international travel.
The ambassadors are meeting on Wednesday to discuss easing restrictions on non-essential trips into the EU.
Portugal and Greece are among the countries that have already begun welcoming UK tourists, but an EU-wide move would boost the chances of a major summer getaway.
The most popular destination for UK holidaymakers, Spain, currently prohibits inbound leisure visits from outside the EU and Schengen Area, meaning UK holidaymakers are banned.
Meanwhile, health secretary Matt Hancock will lead a Downing Street press conference later with the government facing calls for clarity over its position in relation to overseas leisure travel after ministers appeared to contradict themselves.
With a new traffic light system brought in on Monday to allow some foreign holidays to resume again after months of coronavirus lockdown, Boris Johnson stressed countries on the amber list are “not somewhere where you should be going on holiday”.
Johnson’s official spokesman, during a briefing with reporters, said holidays and leisure travel should still be restricted to the limited number of countries deemed safe by ministers, such as Portugal, which is the only major viable tourist destination on the quarantine-free green list.
But two cabinet ministers appeared to offer a different reading of the rules, with environment secretary George Eustice telling broadcasters people could go to amber-listed countries as long as they observed quarantine rules on their return.
Education minister Gillian Keegan told Sky News: “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.”
Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford said last week it is his “strong advice” that people should “stay at home and enjoy all that Wales has to offer” this year.
George Morgan-Grenville, founder and chief executive of travel company Red Savannah, said the industry is “facing a disaster” and cannot understand why it “has to bear the brunt of so much confused and mixed messaging from ministers”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There are 10,000 lorries every day coming into this country through British ports, and those drivers are only required to take a lateral flow test.
“So the idea that people not going on holiday is going to shut out every virus is nonsensical.”
The criticism came amid reports thousands of people had headed for destinations such as France, Greece, Spain and the United States – none of which are on the green list – with more than 150 flights reported to have departed on Monday when travel rules were relaxed in Britain as part of a further phase of lockdown easing.
Non-essential travel from Northern Ireland to the Common Travel Area – which consists of the UK, Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man – will be allowed from May 24.