British holidaymakers were given less notice to return from France after UK ministers gave in to demands from devolved governments to set a tighter deadline, it has emerged.
It was originally planned that British tourists in France, as well as those in the Netherlands, Monaco, Malta, Turks and Caicos, and Aruba, would have until 4am on Sunday to return to the UK without the need to quarantine for 14 days. Downing Street briefed reporters at 9.20pm on Thursday of the Sunday cut-off point.
However, in a "four nations" call at around 9:30pm on Thursday evening, Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Justice Secretary, pushed for the deadline to be brought forward, The Daily Telegraph understands. This led to a limit of 4am on Saturday being imposed - 24 hours earlier than originally planned.
The SNP politician was backed up by his counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland, and Grant Shapps, the UK Transport Secretary, "did not dig his heels in” and agreed to the change, senior sources said.
The tight deadline caused chaos for British travellers in the destinations, who on Friday faced a scramble to get home, with airlines and the Eurostar ramping up prices in light of demand.
However, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, said it was “basic common sense” that restrictions should be imposed as quickly as possible.
Speaking at her daily press briefing in Edinburgh she said: “I think if we think a country is high risk, and that necessitates quarantine, I just don't think there is any argument that says you should wait a couple of days before you impose it. Because you're just then letting the risk that you're trying to mitigate potentially materialise. That, to me, seems like basic common sense."
Ms Sturgeon has been more explicit than UK ministers in warning against overseas travel, urging Scots to instead consider a ‘staycation’.
She added: “One of the things that’s been raised is it makes it difficult to get home in time… [but] if you’re travelling overseas right now, you must be aware of these risks because I can’t guarantee that if you go to country X today, with one set of rules in place, the same rules will still be in place when you’re due to come back from that country. So don’t go overseas without being fully aware of these risks.”
Asked about his discussions with UK ministers about the issue, Mr Yousaf declined to give a detailed account of the talks but added: “I make no apologies for often on these calls, pushing everybody and ensuring all the other nations try to implement these changes as quickly as we possibly can, for the sake of public health.”