Boris Johnson was on Tuesday night accused of hypocrisy as it emerged that the Government has caved in to Uefa and will allow thousands of football VIPs to attend the Euro 2020 finals without quarantining.
Ministers are facing a backlash from senior Tory MPs over the decision to exempt Uefa officials, politicians and sponsors from having to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival in the UK.
It comes days after it was reported that Uefa had threatened to move the matches to Budapest unless ministers relented on the quarantine rules. Sources said the UK would have lost out if it had failed to compromise.
While the agreement still needs final sign-off by public health officials, sources told The Telegraph the exemption was due to commence on July 5 – a day before the first semi-final at Wembley. It will remain in place until after the final, which is being played on July 11.
The number of VIPs due to travel to the UK is expected to be in the "low thousands", although government sources say many will only remain for one match.
The exemption was personally negotiated by Dan Rosenfield, Mr Johnson’s chief of staff, who is an avid football fan and supports Manchester United. The details emerged after ministers announced on Tuesday that the capacity at Wembley would be increased to 75 per cent, enabling 60,000 fans to attend the semi-finals and final.
The VIPs will be required to provide a negative pre-departure test and undergo testing during their stay. They will be allowed to stay in tournament hotels and travel between matches and official meetings, but will be told to limit their movements outside these permitted activities. It was unclear whether they will be allowed to dine at restaurants.
David Davis, a former Cabinet minister, said the decision on VIPs was "morally inconsistent", while another MP said it was "absurd and indefensible".
British holidaymakers currently have to isolate at home for 10 days and pay for at least two PCR tests if they visit amber list countries, from which the vast majority of the football VIPs will be coming.
On Thursday, ministers will consider exempting fully vaccinated Britons from quarantine on their return from amber destinations, but the change is not expected until after the Euro finals. Holidaymakers are also likely to still face expensive PCR tests in order to track variants.
Huw Merriman, the Tory chairman of the Commons transport committee, on Tuesday criticised the Government’s "shambolic" and "over-cautious" approach as he urged ministers to introduce the changes from July 19.
Travel countries on the amber list
Approached for comment, a government source said of the VIP exemption: "It’s important to be able to host international events such as the Euros, and there will be strict mitigations for those attending in order to protect public health, similar to those used at the G7."
However, Mr Davis told The Telegraph: "We have been talking about restricting our own citizens on the basis they are, or are not, vaccinated, yet just because we came under a little bit of pressure we give in to allowing 2,500 people who don’t need to be here. It is morally inconsistent with the stance that we have taken with our own citizens."
Henry Smith, the Tory chairman of the all-party future of aviation group, said: "I welcome the fact they are beginning to realise that people don’t have to quarantine and the precedent that sets. But I think it looks awful that there is one rule for the elites and another rule for the rest of us. You either end quarantine for those who are fully vaccinated or not at all."
Steve Baker, the deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said it was "yet another rule for them", as had been the case at the G7 summit.
Meanwhile, ministers on the Cabinet’s Covid-O committee are on Thursday expected to allow double-jabbed adults to travel to amber countries across Europe without having to quarantine on their return. Unvaccinated children are expected to be exempt to allow families to go on holiday together.
The change is unlikely to take effect before August – although Tory MPs and the travel industry, which will on Wednesday mount a mass lobby of Parliament, are pressing for July 19 to coincide with the planned ending of domestic Covid restrictions.
Holidaymakers are expected, however, to still be required to take PCR tests, which add at least £60 apiece to travel costs.