Business leaders have written to Boris Johnson to demand the urgent creation of “air bridges” to low-risk countries to quash fears that Britain’s controversial quarantine “risks major damage to the arteries of UK trade”.
A letter sent to No 10, seen by The Sunday Telegraph, warns the Prime Minister that a failure to act will “push the UK to the back of the queue as states begin conversations for opening up their borders” as the coronavirus pandemic eases.
The direct intervention comes against the background of a Cabinet split on air bridges, which are bilateral agreements to link countries that are judged to have Covid-19 under control.
The concept is believed to have the backing of Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary. But sources said officials in the Foreign Office and Department of Health were opposed due to concerns that Britain could import new outbreaks of coronavirus.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, said she was open to the idea but it needed to be implemented in a “practical” way.
The letter, whose signatories include Airlines UK, the Federation of Small Businesses, Make UK, UKHospitality and the British Chambers of Commerce, states: “We have serious reservations about a blanket approach to all arrivals, irrespective of where passengers are originating from.
“This approach would have significant consequences for the UK’s tourism and hospitality industry, and any sector of the economy which relies on air connectivity for their supply chains, recruitment and exports.
“We urgently ask the Government to set out how it will move to a more targeted approach, such as air bridges.” Andrew Griffith MP, Mr Johnson’s former business adviser, said: “The UK should do everything possible not to isolate itself just as the rest of the world is reopening.
“Air bridges to low or no-infection countries could be a vital step towards allowing British businesses to maintain connectivity as part of a sensible, risk-based measure.”
After protesting against the travel quarantine, aviation bosses now fear they will find themselves on the losing side of a Whitehall battle.
It is understood that a senior transport official issued an edict to airline leaders last week telling them not to publicly denounce it. Nevertheless, Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair chief executive, attacked the plans.
“It is bonkers. It has no credibility,” he said.