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France not exempt from 14-day international quarantine rules, Downing Street says

British prime minister Boris Johnson in a previous meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace. Picture by Press Association 
Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent

The UK has denied that those coming from France will be exempt from moves to quarantine international visitors.

The comments from Downing Street come despite the British prime minister, in a phone call with French president Emmanuel Macron on Sunday, stating that "no quarantine measures would apply to travellers coming from France at this stage".

Talk of a forthcoming exemption caused the European Commission to warn that no country following European Union rules would be allowed to discriminate against another when easing travel restrictions after lockdown - a point repeated by Brussels today.

Boris Johnson this week confirmed the UK would "impose quarantine on people coming into this country by air" once the domestic coronavirus transmission rate had been successfully suppressed.

But, while the restrictions will not apply to the Republic of Ireland, Downing Street strongly denied that France will also be handed an exemption.

The prime minister's official spokesman told reporters: "If you look at what was actually said in the joint statement on Sunday night, it said no quarantine measures apply to France at this stage and the key words in that sentence are 'at this stage'.

"So there is no exemption agreed with France. What we have said is that we will be working together with the French on this issue in the coming weeks.

"A working group between the two governments will be set up to ensure that consultation takes place throughout the coming weeks and that cooperation is particularly necessary for the management of our common border."

There was a "particular issue" around the movement of freight, said Number 10, but added that "our plans for the rest of the world, we will set those out in due course".

Read more: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says air travel is months rather than weeks away

Brussels confirmed, in a European Commission press briefing today, that UK citizens will be allowed to visit and holiday in European countries when coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted.

But home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson also warned that "discrimination" based on "passports" would not be permitted.

The commission's health spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker reminded Downing Street yesterday that the UK remained subject to EU free movement rules during the Brexit transition period, which is currently due to end in 2021.

Under bloc rules, member states are free to set their own lockdown restrictions, which can include quarantining visitors, but when easing them they must lift them for all nations deemed to have "similar epidemiological situations".

Ms Johansson said: "UK residents are being treated the same way as EU residents this year during the transition period.

"They will not be excluded from open borders or the removing of border restrictions.

"But what is very clear is that all member states have to act in a non-discriminatory way.

"That means it is not possible to open your borders only for citizens from a specific country.

"If you open a border, then it is open for all EU citizens, including UK residents, to cross this border.

"It is not possible to make this discrimination, to say it is just according to their passport."

In an answer to a separate question, Ms Johansson also said the commission had the power to "act" if EU rules were not being followed.

Holiday giant Tui, which is looking to cut up to 8,000 roles worldwide due to Covid-19, also called for free movement to be respected.

Fritz Joussen, chief executive of the UK's biggest tour operator, said today that "politicians could more and more take the view that, particularly in Europe, free movement is appropriate and adequate when it is safe".

Questions about the UK's policy towards visitors have also been asked of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), the group of experts who have been making recommendations to ministers throughout the crisis.

Yvette Cooper, chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, asked the Home Office's chief scientific adviser, Professor John Aston, if he would publish any "updated" Sage advice to the government on international arrivals.

The Labour MP also asked Prof Aston on "what scientific basis was the decision made to exempt France" from the 14-day requirement.

Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England, previously told a Royal Society of Medicine webinar that those arriving from other countries could present a "significant risk" for the UK.

Read more: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says air travel is months rather than weeks away

 

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