Britain expects the US to drop its UK travel ban after ministers reopened the border to Americans, the Transport Secretary said on Wednesday night.
Grant Shapps announced that fully vaccinated travellers from the US and the EU would be allowed to enter Britain without quarantine from Monday morning, and made it clear he expected the move to be reciprocated for British holidaymakers.
Currently, foreigners from the UK are barred from entry to the US along with those from China, Brazil, India, South Africa and much of Europe, including Switzerland and Norway.
There had been hopes that Washington and European nations would open up their borders simultaneously with the UK.
But that looked to have failed, calling into question Britain’s approach of bypassing Brussels and appealing directly to European countries to permit travel from the UK.
British diplomatic pressure on Washington to open the US borders has intensified in recent days after the UK saw Covid cases fall for seven straight days before they rose slightly on Wednesday.
Map of UK’s seven-day Covid-19 infection rate, by local authority
The Telegraph understands that Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, has raised the issue with his opposite number Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State. Karen Pierce, the British Ambassador in Washington, is also pushing the UK’s case in her meetings with officials in Joe Biden’s administration and US congressmen.
"Everyone is lobbying the Americans left, right and centre," said one UK diplomatic source. Another predicted a renewed drive to convince the US to "open up".
But aviation sources closely following the discussions warned that Mr Biden may not lift the overseas travel ban until September – which would scupper hopes of Britons for US summer holidays.
Mr Shapps confirmed that, from 4am on Monday, fully vaccinated US and EU travellers can enter the UK without the need to quarantine on arrival. However, the same is not true in reverse, with America still closed to double jabbed Britons – barring a few exemptions – and a dozen EU countries having some form of restrictions.
Asked whether he was confident that the US and EU would reciprocate with a similar loosening of rules, the Transport Secretary said: "It will depend. We can only set the rules at our end, and that has always been the case."
Mr Shapps, who spoke to Pete Buttigieg, the US transport secretary, on Wednesday, added: "So we’re saying: ‘You can come here, you can come visit, you can come see friends, you can come as a tourist if you’ve been double vaccinated and follow the rules without quarantine.’
"We can’t change that on the other side, but we do expect that in time they will release that executive order, which was actually signed by the previous president and bans inward travel."
On Wednesday, 27,734 new Covid cases were recorded in the UK, up from 23,511 on Tuesday and ending the seven-day run of falling numbers. But the figure remained well below the heights of earlier in the month, when daily cases rose above 50,000.
Both Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, stressed the need to remain cautious, with the full impact of last week’s lifting of most remaining Covid restrictions in England and Wales yet to be seen.
Mr Johnson told LBC Radio: "We’ve seen some encouraging recent data, there’s no question about that – but it is far, far too early to draw any general conclusions."
Before the virus outbreak, more than five million Britons visited the US and more than 4.5 million Americans visited the UK every year. Wednesday’s announcement means the majority of American adults are now able to travel into Britain without quarantining, but almost all Britons are still not allowed into the US.
It is possible for exemptions to be granted by the US embassy in London, but business leaders have complained about how difficult they are to acquire.
One leading figure at a UK-US business group said: "There has been a year plus of CEOs and senior executives of major companies that cannot get into the US to carry out their business, and they are going crazy. The pressure is unbelievable."
Mr Johnson and Mr Biden, who became the US president in January, pledged to work together to reopen the UK-US border when they met in person for the first time at the G7 summit in Cornwall last month.
Mr Biden has chosen to keep in place the travel ban for non-US citizens from certain countries that was originally put in place by his predecessor, Donald Trump, when the Covid crisis hit last March.
Similarly, some 12 of the 27 EU countries, including Italy, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands, have restrictions on British travellers even if they are fully vaccinated. These restrictions include outright bans, curbs on non-essential travel, or a requirement to quarantine.
A month ago, the US president warned that the delta variant of Covid was "spreading rapidly" among young people in the UK. Another complication is that the American administration does not recognise the AstraZeneca vaccine, which millions of Britons have taken.
Duncan Edwards, the chief executive of BritishAmerican Business, which represents 400 major companies including multinationals, said: "There is no reason why fully vaccinated travellers with the correct visas should not be able to visit the US from countries like the UK that have had such success with their vaccination programmes."