Pressure is building on the prime minister to radically redraw restrictions on foreign travel next week, in time for the final weeks of the summer holidays.
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has made an unprecedented intervention before a crunch meeting on Thursday, writing to the prime minister to demand that the UK change its quarantine policy.
Fully vaccinated travellers from England, as well as children, no longer need to quarantine on their return from amber-list countries, though many may still choose to shun holidays abroad because of the risk of sudden quarantine rules being imposed.
France has already been placed in an “amber plus” category, meaning home quarantine is still necessary for returning travellers.
The UK is also poised to lift restrictions on travellers who land in hubs in red list countries – which require strict hotel quarantine on arrival in the UK.
That change would mean that tourists travelling through popular layover hubs such as Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Doha, Dubai and Istanbul would not have to quarantine, even though countries such as Qatar, Turkey and the UAE remain on the red list.
Government sources said France was likely to be moved off the amber list in an announcement to be made on Thursday that will come into force from the following Monday – 9 August.
Spain, however, where Beta cases have risen by 14.2% in the past four weeks, is at risk of going on to the “amber-plus” list.
Sunak wrote to Johnson before Thursday’s meeting, as reported by the Sunday Times, and said UK border policy was “out of step with our international competitors”. The chancellor said there was little time to save the summer for tourism and hospitality sectors.
The chancellor is also said to be concerned about how rules on travel are hampering business deals with the US. There are still significant restrictions on entry to the US, imposed by Joe Biden.
Discussions are under way about the creation of a watchlist for amber list countries once the requirement to quarantine is fully lifted for vaccinated travellers – which could mean new quarantine measures are imposed. Spain and Greece are thought to be at risk because of cases of the Beta variant.
A No 10 source said it was far too early to make a call about what the data from the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) would show on Thursday. Johnson is understood to be in favour of easing more restrictions on travellers.
The source said Johnson wanted to see travel eased where possible. “We haven’t even seen the data from the JBC yet. The PM was pushing for US/EU double-vaccine exemptions. For this week, it is just too early.”
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, last week defended the decision to put France on the “amber-plus” list, after the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, on Thursday suggested the variant’s prevalence on Réunion, a French overseas territory in the Indian Ocean, was partly to blame.
The JBC was also accused by the Office for Statistics Regulation of “not making the data and sources clear” to evidence the need for the drastic action.
Jim McMahon, the shadow transport secretary, said it was further evidence of chaos over the border policy.
“Rishi Sunak’s latest self-promotion campaign will just create more anxiety for people,” he said.
“Rather than brief the Sunday newspapers against each other, the Tories need to get a grip and bring this summer of chaos to an end.
“Not only have ministers failed to protect our borders, allowing Covid cases to rocket, they also refuse to be straight with the public and give them the information they need to book travel with confidence, with clear information on the direction of travel of infections in each country.
“Families who have booked holidays in good faith now risk losing out – 10-day quarantine is simply not an option for many people who are already struggling financially thanks to the pandemic.”