Britons face being barred from EU after Brexit due to coronavirus pandemic

Passengers waiting in a departure lounge at London Stansted Airport. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA.

Passengers waiting in a departure lounge at London Stansted Airport. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

A majority of Britons face being barred from visiting the European Union from January 1 2021 when pandemic safety rules that allow freedom of movement within the bloc stop applying to the UK.

The European Commission has said that the end of the Brexit transition period will mean that the UK will be subject to the same system that other non-EU countries face - with only those with the lowest infection rates allowed into the bloc.

Only eight countries with a very low Covid-19 infection rate are currently allowed in.

Norway - not in the EU but part of their travel arrangements - had also said British citizens will be prevented from entering the country in January.

It means Britons will only be able to travel to the EU if the bloc relaxes its rules or individual countries decide to override the recommendations.

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The EU made clear it has no plans to add the UK to the list of safe nations - which currently includes Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. 

But there will be some exemptions for "highly qualified third-country workers" and those with family reasons could be allowed in, along with EU nationals and those who live in the European zone.

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Foreign secretary Dominic Raab acknowledged that travel could be disrupted across Europe.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Covid restrictions will depend on the combination of what the EU decides, but also member states.

“We have already got challenges with that and we have put our own restrictions in place.”

He acknowledged that coronavirus “remains a live issue and we need to make sure we have got control of it”.

“I’m afraid restriction on travel, inevitably, is going to be something that is kept under review.”

Asked whether that would mean Britons will find it difficult to go to the European mainland, he said: “It all depends on the prevalence of the virus in those continental European countries.”

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