Company bosses and senior bankers will be allowed to fly into Britain without facing a lengthy quarantine again amid fears that France is trying to woo banks frustrated with tough UK travel rules.
Executives flying in from New York, Frankfurt and Hong Kong will not have to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival after ministers reinstated the special fast-track route into the UK for executives.
A Government source said ministers took action over concerns of losing investment and jobs to key competitors that have already introduced similar exemptions.
The proposals follow intense lobbying by US banks over restrictions for senior business figures. But the relaxation was described as an “offensive slap in the face” for families still under tough travel rules by Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner.
Bosses will only be allowed to “temporarily” leave quarantine to undertake business activities and the trip must bring “significant economic benefit” to Britain’s economy to receive the exemption. That means there has to be a greater than 50 per cent chance of creating or protecting at least 500 UK-based jobs.
The relaxation will open up business travel for factory visits and important meetings with potential investors and company boards among others, the business department said.
“The financial and related professional services industry is the biggest UK exporting industry, and opening safe travel corridors is essential to powering a faster, more lasting economic recovery,” said Miles Celic, chief executive of TheCityUK.
“International connectivity is a major strength for the UK. In normal times, investors could easily come here, find opportunities, and access the high-quality services they need, thereby bringing investment and creating jobs.”
Travel countries on the red, green and amber list
The loosening of rules for executives comes as French president Emmanuel Macron tries to lure global banks by rolling out the red carpet at a “Choose France” event this week. The City has vented its frustration at the UK’s tougher travel rules compared to France, warning that they were hampering London’s financial sector.
The UK’s exemption for “high-value” bosses was first introduced in December last year, but was suspended in mid-January as the second wave of Covid-19 cases ripped through the country.
A Government spokesman said: “Protecting public health is the Government’s number one priority, which is why exemptions to quarantine from amber list countries will only apply in truly exceptional circumstances.
“Many other countries have introduced similar exemptions and it is important the UK does not lose out on prospective major investments and new jobs as a result.
“Individuals will only be able to use an exemption if they have clearly demonstrated that they meet the strict criteria and have received pre-approval in writing from the UK Government. All visitors will also still need to be tested.”
Any executive caught breaching quarantine by leaving for anything other than their work will face £10,000 fines.
The UK has some of the toughest travel restrictions in Europe with only a handful of major countries included on its “green list”. Singapore is currently the only significant financial hub on the list while the US and most of Europe are still on the amber list, which requires travellers to quarantine for 10 days on their return.
Eligible executives of companies with at least 50 staff have to notify the Government of their business trip and receive written permission.
Meanwhile JP Morgan has opened a new Paris trading hub as it ramps up the number of bankers it has in France due to Brexit.
President Macron, himself a former banker, made a speech and had a tour of the new building on Tuesday.
JP Morgan chief executive Jamie Dimon meets President Emmanuel Macron in Paris
The US bank had 265 bankers based in Paris before the Brexit vote but that will increase to around 700 by the end of this year, insiders said.
The opening of its new trading hub comes days after it emerged that chief executive Jamie Dimon would not visit London on his trip to Europe this week due to UK quarantine rules.
John Dickie, chief executive of London First, said the move was “a welcome change and an important signal as we move towards fully reopening the international economy”.
“We need to be doing all we can to make the UK an attractive place to invest,” he said. He added that a further relaxation for vaccinated travellers was “critical to getting our economy moving again”.