German sunseekers may well be able to enjoy unaccustomed lie-ins this summer. No need for them to bolt down breakfast and rush to the pool to get that towel on the sun lounger before we Brits rouse ourselves from slumber.
Why? Because Angela Merkel is doing her level best to ban British tourists not just from Germany but the entire EU.
‘In our country if you come from Great Britain you have to go into quarantine,’ the German Chancellor said at the weekend, ‘that’s not the case in every European country, and that’s what I would like to see.’ Within hours she appeared to be getting her way.
Spain placed extra restrictions on British travellers and Portugal imposed 14-day quarantine on Britons who haven’t been double-jabbed two weeks before travelling, banging the final nail in the coffin of many holidays booked when Portugal was on Britain’s green list a few weeks ago.
If you had the confidence to book a fortnight in the Algarve then, this is what you may now have to look forward to, especially if you are bringing younger family members: 14 days inside your hotel room, followed by a journey straight back to the airport and another 10 days’ quarantine in Britain.
It’s almost as if, with the sausage war resolved, Germany’s Iron Lady was determined to reopen hostilities on a new front, taking the sizzle out of our summer in the process.
To many it looks like a case of sour Riesling grapes.
EU enthusiasts have long tried to reassure us the purpose of the bloc is not to allow its two biggest member states, Germany and France, to impose their will on smaller nations. They will have a hard job to convince us of that now.
Angela Merkel (left, with French President Emmanuel Macron) is doing her level best to ban British tourists not just from Germany but the entire EU
With Britain absent from the table, the Franco-German axis is growing ever more powerful.
Much as I disagree with Merkel’s decision to impose quarantine on British visitors to Germany — which, after all, merely echoes conditions Britain currently places on people travelling in the opposite direction — she has every right to impose it.
If she wants to use emergency powers to block entry for Britons, that is her business.
But to seek to impose a pan-European quarantine rule on British tourists is a quite different matter.
She and President Macron of France, who briefly imposed a near-complete ban on UK travellers in May, are disgracefully trying to dictate to southern European countries which are much more reliant on tourism and had been looking forward to a proper reopening of their Mediterranean resorts after last summer’s failed season.
In 2016, according to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), UK tourists made 53 million trips to the EU, contributing £25 billion to EU economies. Spain made £7.9 billion out of UK holidaymakers.
Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has already slammed the potential ban, arguing an accelerated vaccination programme, rather than new restrictions is the answer, adding he would welcome double-jabbed Britons to his nation.
Merkel’s demand to make life difficult for British tourists is part of a power grab that’s been going on since the 2008/09 financial crash when southern European countries were bailed out, but with onerous conditions attached.
Those countries had suffered unsustainable booms thanks to excessively loose monetary-policy set by the German-focused European Central Bank (ECB). The Euro was effectively used as a device to bring southern European economies within Germany’s orbit.
At the same time, it’s hard not to see Merkel and Macron’s efforts to banish UK tourists as part of our punishment for having the temerity to leave the EU. In their eyes we simply can’t be allowed to benefit from Brexit, lest any other member state start entertaining thoughts of leaving.
If you want to get the message across that Brexit is a disaster why not target ordinary holidaymakers who have saved hard for two weeks in the sun and who now face being banished from the beaches?
Spain placed extra restrictions on British travellers and Portugal (pictured, Praia do Camilo, Lagos) imposed 14-day quarantine on Britons who haven’t been double-jabbed two weeks before travelling
The justification for Merkel’s attempt to impose a pan-European policy of quarantine on UK tourists is, of course, the idea that Britain is rampant with the Indian — or Delta —variant of the Covid-19 virus. But the case doesn’t stand up.
It is true Britain has recorded far more cases of the variant, but that is only because we actually look for it.
The UK sequences around half of all positive Covid samples to see which variant they are, and has done so since March. In France, for the latest week for which we have data, only 3.6 per cent of cases were sequenced, and in Germany it was just 1.2 per cent.
If they are really concerned about the Delta variant why don’t they test for it properly?
Some EU countries are not carrying out any sequencing at all, so no-one has any idea what variants are in circulation in them, yet Merkel is happy for them to be included in her pan-EU travel scheme, opening the path for EU holidaymakers to travel wherever they like within the Union this summer.
It is no accident the main variants of Covid-19 are named after countries that do a lot of sequencing: Britain, South Africa, and India. We don’t really know whether these variants originated in those countries — only that they were first identified there.
Britain, like India and South Africa, is being punished for doing the right thing and putting a great deal of effort into studying the spread and evolution of the virus.
That is why the World Health Organisation (WHO) has tried to dissuade the world from using geographically-based names for variants, but sadly the message doesn’t seem to have got through to Angela Merkel, who wants to single out Britain for harsh treatment on the grounds that we are somehow incubating all the nastiest variants.
In 2016, according to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), UK tourists made 53 million trips to the EU, contributing £25 billion to EU economies. Spain (pictured, Barcelona) made £7.9 billion out of UK holidaymakers
Of course one big difference between Britain and the EU is that many more people here have been vaccinated.
The UK has delivered 113 doses of Covid vaccines per 100 inhabitants, compared with 77 in France, 86 in Germany and 83 in Spain.
This ought to make British travellers relatively safe for admission to EU countries —while the vaccines don’t cut the risk of transmission altogether they certainly reduce it.
Instead, it is UK travellers who end up being forced into quarantine, while other nationals — much more vulnerable to the virus — have far greater freedom to travel in the EU.
Throughout the Brexit process, the UK Government made it absolutely clear that Britain was not leaving Europe, only the EU, and that we sought very close relations with the bloc following our departure from its political structures.
Yet what we have had instead is Berlin and Paris, in particular, trying to drive a wedge between Britain and the EU. Merkel’s demand for EU-wide restrictions on UK travellers at the same time as opening up for travel within the bloc is just the latest manifestation.
Angela Merkel will not be in power much longer. She’s announced her retirement.
In the meantime, her party has to fight elections, and, like so many national leaders facing elections, she has resorted to crowd-pleasing initiatives.
How she — and many others in the EU — would love it if Britain were to turn around and say: we’ve made a mistake in leaving the EU and please could we rejoin.
Sorry, but it isn’t going to happen. What is on the table, however, is the offer of much friendlier UK-EU relations in a world where the bloc’s leaders don’t keep trying to come up with wheezes to punish Brexit Britain by excluding our goods — and now perhaps the hundreds of thousands of Britons with bulging wallets just desperate to hit the European beaches this summer and start spending money.