Plans to ease quarantine requirements for thousands of VIP football delegates seeking to enter the UK for games in the Euro 2020 football tournament have sparked outrage among politicians and travel industry figures.
Senior officials are holding talks with Uefa, European football’s governing body, to allow around 2,000 foreign fans and 2,000 VIPs to attend the July 6 and 7 semi-finals and July 11 final on of the competition at London’s Wembley Stadium, according to people close to ongoing discussions.
The UK government said on Tuesday that it had agreed a deal with Uefa to keep the final and semi-final of the continent-wide competition in the British capital as planned after days of negotiation over the issue.
The exact number of people allowed to escape the more stringent quarantine rules will depend on the teams that qualify for the matches and whether their countries are on the UK’s amber or red lists for travel. Only those arriving from a small number of green-listed countries are currently allowed to avoid a quarantine period of up to 10 days on entry.
Instead, overseas attendees of the Euro 2020 matches will be told to stay in a “bubble” — allowed only to travel between airports, hotels and the stadium. Those attending for just one match would leave the UK within 24 hours of entry.
“If we hadn’t [eased quarantine requirements] we would have lost the semi-final and the final [of the Euros], people would have been furious,” said a senior government figure. “They’ve promised to stay in their bubbles and just watch the matches and not go to any restaurants. We just have to hope that they stick to that agreement.”
The government’s willingness to relax its restrictions for the sake of a football tournament drew anger from politicians, travel officials and supporters themselves.
“No elite of any kind should be allowed or enabled to circumvent laws which suppress the rights of others, however necessary,” said Steve Baker, a Tory former minister. “It is a fundamental breach of the rule of law.”
John Healey, Labour’s shadow defence minister, said the plan meant “one rule for important people . . . and one rule for the rest”.
A spokesperson for Ryanair said: “The fact that the UK government is even considering allowing these so-called ‘Uefa VIPs’ dodge quarantine rules is laughable. What scientific data and facts are they working from . . . and how will it be enforced?”
Paul Corkrey, from Fans Embassy Wales, a supporters’ group, complained that plans were in stark contrast to the European travel restrictions preventing Welsh fans going to Amsterdam for their side’s knockout tie against Denmark on Saturday.
“Uefa officials from all round the world, they let them in, and from red countries,” he said of the quarantine plan for the finals at Wembley. “This is where money comes into it in football and that’s the difference.”
Nadine Houghton, an officer at the GMB union, said the quarantine rules should be applied equally to anyone entering the country, rather than waived for sponsors and officials “who have no reason to be there other than for a jolly”.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has faced fierce criticism for not enforcing tougher border measures in recent weeks due to the rise of the Delta variant, which first originated in India.
Growing coronavirus cases in the UK led German chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian prime minister Mario Draghi this week to call for the Euro 2020 matches to be moved away from London.
Major European football matches at the start of the pandemic were described as “super-spreader” events, leading politicians to be wary of allowing mass gatherings.
UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden said on Tuesday that the public health measures put in place for the Euro 2020 tournament were “rigorous and tight”.
Ministers have agreed to allow 60,000 spectators to watch the final matches at Wembley, up from 22,500 for the games that have taken place so far. Most ticket holders will be UK residents, but will need to show evidence of being double-vaccinated or having passed a coronavirus test.
The relaxed immigration rules around Euro 2020 came as the travel industry staged a day of protest to demand ministers open up borders and offer support to struggling companies. Ministers are set to announce the results of a regular review of restrictions on trips overseas on Thursday.