Ministers have been hit with an unprecedented joint legal action by UK airlines infuriated by plans to impose a two-week quarantine period on travellers entering Britain.
British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair have joined forces to argue that the measure is illegal on the grounds that it is discriminatory, irrational and disproportionate.
The carriers say that the move, which is due to be implemented tomorrow, was drawn up without consultation and will destroy their attempts to rebuild their businesses.
A ‘pre-action’ letter, seen by The Mail on Sunday, highlights that while ‘weekly commuters’ such as French bankers travelling on the Eurostar will be exempt from the rule, British families going on their summer holidays will not.
Grounded airplanes at Gatwick airport as the airlines join together to stop the quarantine rules
Lawyers working for IAG, the parent company for BA, say that the Statutory Instrument laid down by the Government last Thursday to introduce the rules is so ‘irrational and disproportionate’ as to be rendered unlawful.
The letter points out that the 14-day quarantine period is more stringent than the guidelines applied to people who have tested positive for Covid-19, that the rules will not apply if you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and that the controls will even relate to countries which have lower rates of infection than Britain.
The airlines have told Government lawyers: ‘The Government has failed to identify a valid justification for the blanket nature of the regulations.
‘The effect is to establish a wholly unjustified and disproportionate restriction on individuals travelling to England… and will inevitably mean that there is very little increase in the numbers of persons leaving and entering the country.’
Their letter adds: ‘The estimated proportion of the population infected with coronavirus is far higher than in other European countries…
‘The disparity is so great that it reinforces the fact that it is illogical and irrational for the Government to be imposing self-isolation on persons entering the UK from Union countries.’
They add that the regulations ‘cannot possibly be justified, since individuals arriving in the UK in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales or living in those regions will not be bound by them’.
The move comes after Willie Walsh, the chief executive of IAG, wrote to MPs to explain the damage the policy would cause to his business and snubbed a meeting with Home Secretary Priti Patel, the architect of the plan.
Mr Walsh said that the new rules – which some critics have called ‘crazy’ – had ‘torpedoed our opportunity to get flying in July’.
BA had hoped to operate about 40 per cent of its scheduled flights next month but is now reworking its plans. It is burning through £20million a day and has racked up an additional £800million in short-term debt.
Deserted runways as the coronavirus pandemic brings the UK tourism industry to a holt
The airline has also become embroiled in a dispute with unions over its plans to lay off up to 12,000 of its 43,000 staff.
Bosses see this as vital as BA prepares to shrink to cope with lower demand for flights even after the pandemic subsides.
In his letter to MPs, Mr Walsh said: ‘We find ourselves in the deepest crisis ever faced. A crisis not of our making but one which we must address.
‘We will do everything in our power to ensure that British Airways can survive and sustain the maximum number of jobs consistent with the new reality of a changed airline industry in a severely weakened global economy.’
On Friday at 4pm, airline and airport bosses were sent a 23-page document setting out the new measures.
The document, seen by the MoS, shows passengers will be asked to fill in a ‘Pre-Travel Passenger Locator’ form up to 48 hours before travelling.
Anyone who refuses will be denied entry to the UK.
Ministers are jeopardising the summer holiday season by dragging their heels over ‘air bridges’, aviation bosses say
Ministers are jeopardising the entire summer holiday season by dragging their heels over ‘air bridges’, aviation bosses warned last night.
Air bridges are agreements between two countries to allow people to travel without the need to quarantine for 14 days on arrival.
But a senior aviation insider involved in talks with Home Secretary Priti Patel and Aviation Minister Kelly Tolhurst last Thursday accused the Government of failing to move quickly enough.
The insider said airline bosses were left ‘frustrated’ that Ministers gave no details about their plans and that Ms Patel showed a ‘lack of clarity’.
The Government’s quarantine rules will be reviewed on June 29.
But the source said airlines need an answer on whether Britons will be able to fly to countries with low Covid-19 infection rates ‘in the next few days’.
The source said: ‘If the Government wants connectivity this summer, we can’t wait until the review. That’s far too late.
‘If we get to that point and we still have no detail, there is a risk the whole summer season will be under threat, and airlines will have to make even deeper cuts.’
This weekend, Airlines UK, which represents the industry, wrote to Ms Patel asking her to accelerate plans for air bridges.
They want her to confirm what criteria countries must meet to be included and when the Home Office will give a starting date.
Airlines have slashed routes and thousands of jobs. Derek Provan, chief executive of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton airports, said the blanket quarantine ban would ‘stifle’ economic recovery.
‘It will further damage our aviation, tourism and hospitality sectors, which support hundreds of thousands of jobs,’ he added.