Holidays in Europe could soon be allowed, hints at UK Transport Secretary

Grant Shapps, UK Transport Secretary, hinted at the prospect of holidays in France and other European destinations this summer, urging people to be “a little patient” and not to take risks now.

Shapps warned people not to take vacations to Amber List countries, but said, “I don’t think people have to wait very long before other countries can join the Green List.”

In an interview with the Financial Times, his optimism extended to the belief that travel will generally rebound quickly after the pandemic, despite the shift to working from home. “We are social animals,” he says.

Shapps even reflected on the case of building a 50-mile tunnel connecting Wales and Ireland to improve connectivity with Northern Ireland, anticipating the project proposed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson for a link with Scotland.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Shapps said he hopes the travel rebound begins soon, starting with the holidays. “If you look at France’s vaccination rate, they’re six or eight weeks behind,” he said.

The government will revise its traffic light coding for different countries during the first week of June to see if other countries can join countries like Portugal on the green list: a big expansion is not expected at this point .

Explanation of the English travel system at “ traffic lights ”

Green countries: Passengers will not need to quarantine upon their return. But they will have to take a pre-departure test as well as a PCR test on or before the second day after their return to England.

amber: Leisure travel is discouraged by the government. Arrivals will need to be quarantined at home for 10 days and pass a pre-departure test and a PCR test on days two and eight after arrival. An additional test may be done on the fifth day to end the isolation prematurely.

red: Arrivals must pay for a 10 day stay at a managed quarantine hotel, plus pre-departure and PCR testing. There is no test to publish.

But Shapps suggested that the EU’s vaccination program could change the equation later this summer. “It is assumed that the vaccination will work the same whether you live in France, the UK or elsewhere,” he said.

Ministers have come under heavy criticism for sending conflicting messages on whether vacations are allowed in Amber List countries such as France, Greece or Spain, but Shapps simply said, “Don’t. do not. “

In contrast, Spain said on Friday that Britons would be free to enter from Monday without taking a Covid PCR test.

Shapps hasn’t ruled out tougher government travel rules – which were not relaxed until May 17 – but he and Johnson insist they are keen to refrain from issuing executive orders on what people can and cannot do.

“Of course we’ll keep an eye on it,” he said. “But we don’t like to restrict people’s freedoms.” He insisted most people were using common sense, citing recent data from his department: “There was 4% of the 2019 weekly traffic in the air coming from UK airports.”

Grant Shapps with his plan to reorganize British railways © Charlie Bibby / FT

Speaking just hours after announcing the biggest upheaval for British railways in a generation, Shapps said he wanted more roads, railways and airport capacity, not less.

His enthusiasm, which has earned him the nickname ‘Duracell Bunny’ from his fellow Conservatives, even goes so far as to envision a tunnel from Wales to Ireland, an idea some would consider a white elephant.

“Why not?” he exclaimed, arguing that it was vital to link mainland Britain to Northern Ireland. Referring to Johnson’s idea of ​​a bridge or tunnel connecting the region to Scotland, he said: “I don’t know if it should be over there or in Wales.”

A tunnel between Wales and Ireland would offer Northern Ireland a shortcut to its main UK and European markets, but Shapps’ allies admit the idea isn’t exactly formed. A “union connectivity review” on a fixed link concludes this summer.

Shapps said he would be “surprised” if travel demand didn’t return to 2019 levels by the end of the decade and some days the car traffic was already there. “No one can tell me that there is something as important as meeting in person,” he said.

The 52-year-old minister’s rail upheaval includes the provision of flexible subscriptions to accommodate working from home, but he insisted that overall demand would increase. “Why do we have to focus on 7.49 from anywhere to get to your workplace?” He asked. “Why don’t we travel a bit more during the day?”

Shapps, beloved by Johnson for his safe media appearances during the pandemic, argued that video technology would “speed up” the economy, creating more growth and ultimately more travel. But if he gets it wrong, there will be financial pressures across the industry.

Shapps said because the Treasury had ‘stepped in with £ 12bn to keep our fantastic rail network going during the pandemic’, he did not rule out the possibility of a fare hike if passenger numbers did not recover. not. “I’m not claiming for one moment that what we’re only going to do is ask the taxpayer to pay for it,” he said.

Shapps’ mantra is “travel guilt-free”: he wants people to travel more but with less carbon footprint, notably by setting the goal of “bringing the world’s first zero-carbon passenger plane across the Atlantic” d ‘by the end of the decade.

He said the controversial construction of a third runway at Heathrow was “a private sector affair” but added: “I have a feeling it is not the first priority due to the immediacy of recovery from the coronavirus. ”

Shapps, who drives an electric vehicle, insisted Britain has the best charging network in Europe and, despite criticism, has a plan for now in 2030 when the sale of new diesel and gasoline cars is prohibited.

A 1980s British Rail poster promoting travel across the country © SSPL / Getty

Long distance services announced in the 1970s © SSPL / Getty

He remains committed to building the entire HS2 railway from London to Manchester and Leeds, although a review this summer will examine whether the project could be phased differently.

Shapps’ rail reforms, designed to reverse the fragmentation of the network that began with the privatization of the Tories in the 1990s, are seen by some in his department as his greatest mission. A new public body, Great British Railways, will control tracks, timetables and ticketing.

But the minister’s legacy on the rail industry could also take visual form: he revealed he sought to ‘update’ British Rail’s iconic symbol – a red double arrow on a white background – and to place it on a blue background – echoing the government’s enthusiasm for Union Jack.

But Shapps insisted that the private sector would still play a key role in running services and that there was a misplaced nostalgia for the British rail era – akin to a nostalgia for communism in parts of the world. Europe.

“Let’s not forget that the number of passengers has dropped from year to year,” he said. “They have closed thousands of kilometers of railroad tracks, stations closed and communities have been cut off. And they served devilishly bad sandwiches.

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