Grant Shapps has defended France’s position on the UK’s ‘amber plus’ travel list, saying the decision was made due to cases of the Beta coronavirus variant in the north of the country.
Reunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean, is 6,000 miles from Paris.
But the transport secretary told Kay Burley the variant is also “an issue” in northern parts of the country.
“The Beta variant, it is not just – as has been reported – on an island thousands of miles away, it was also an issue in particular in northern France. So it has been an overall concern,” Grant Shapps told Sky News.
“And look, the big concern is that we don’t allow a variant in which somehow is able to escape the vaccine programme that we have got.
“We don’t want to have got this far with vaccinations, with just getting towards 90% of all adults having been vaccinated, and then throw it all away because a variant that the vaccine perhaps couldn’t handle came in.
“Now all the evidence on all of that has been pulled together – the latest research on how the vaccine works with the Beta variant, the scale of the Beta variant and France and the rest of it – and then these decisions will, of course, be constantly reviewed which is exactly what will happen.”
It comes after a French minister described the UK government’s decision to keep quarantine measures for travellers coming from France while removing them for all other European countries as “discriminatory” and “excessive”.
Earlier this week, Mr Shapps confirmed England would allow fully vaccinated visitors from both the EU and the United States to arrive without needing to quarantine from 2 August.
But he added that tougher rules will continue to be in place for France, which, although on the amber list, still requires travellers to quarantine on their return regardless of their vaccine status.
Mr Shapps said this advice would be reviewed at “the end of next week” as part of an ongoing assessment of travel rules.
But French Europe minister Clement Beaune described the move as “incomprehensible on health grounds” and accused the UK government of making decisions “not based on science”.
“It’s excessive, and it’s frankly incomprehensible on health grounds,” Mr Beaune told French TV channel LCI.
“It’s not based on science and [it’s] discriminatory towards the French.”
Mr Beaune said the UK government should use “common sense” and review the matter “as quickly as possible”.
He added that the French government are not planning to place any increased measures on British citizens “for now”.
When Mr Beaune’s comments were put to him on Sky News, Mr Shapps said he understood the disappointment but disagreed with the French minister’s claim that the UK government are not following the science with decision making.
“It is always disappointing for any country to be anything other than on our green list, I appreciate that,” the transport secretary said.
“I spoke to my opposite number Jean-Baptiste just yesterday and we agree we’ll always follow the science on these things and make sure as we can be satisfied over whichever the variants are and whatever the prevalence is that the Joint Biosecurity Centre recommendations to us are followed.”
Mr Shapps added that he is “looking forward to the whole world being more accessible”.
Currently, only people who received two vaccines in the UK can avoid quarantine when arriving from amber list countries.
The UK government said the rule change would help to reunite family and friends whose loved ones live abroad.
But this rule also does not apply to France.