So it turns out a traffic light system for foreign travel isn’t a great idea. Who could have predicted?

Boris Johnson says he isn’t a fan of legislating every part of people’s lives. Laudable perhaps, but sometimes clarity is needed, and the ‘amber list’ has led to needless confusion on foreign travel, writes Nick Mitchell

Greece is one of many popular tourist destinations on the government's 'amber list' (Photo by Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP)

How often do you see drivers speed up as they approach an amber light, desperate to nip through before the light shifts to red? Or just as common, slamming on the brakes when they realise they’ve misjudged it?

On the amber light, the Highway Code warns that “you may go on only if the amber appears after you have crossed the stop line, or are so close to it that to pull up might cause an accident”.

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While the code is clear, human beings tend to interpret the colour amber as “open to interpretation” or “I’ll just chance it”.

So it didn’t take a soothsayer or Nostradamus to foresee that a system of foreign travel based on traffic lights could potentially lead to confusion.

Let’s recap some of the conflicting statements from government representatives over the past 36 hours:

Tuesday morning. Environment Secretary George Eustice: “We don’t want to stop travel altogether and the reason, as Matt Hancock set out, that we have the amber list is there will be reasons why people feel they need to travel, either to visit family or indeed to visit friends.

“They can travel to those countries but they then have to observe quarantine when they return and have two tests after returning. So people can travel to those areas, yes, but they will then have to subject themselves to the quarantine requirements on return.”

Tuesday afternoon. Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “I think it's very important for people to grasp what an amber list country is: it is not somewhere where you should be going on holiday, let me be very clear about that.”

Later on Tuesday afternoon. Health Minister James Bethell: “Traveling is dangerous, and that is not news to us or to the people who get on those planes in the first place. The ultimate sanction here is that, particularly as we go into the summer, we tell people: traveling is not for this year. Please stay in this country.”

Tuesday evening. Welsh Secretary Simon Hart says that while amber list countries are only for essential travel, “some people might think a holiday is essential”, adding: “I can think of a quite a lot of people who do think that.”

Wednesday morning. Education Minister Gillian Keegan says people need to be “sensible” and avoid visiting countries on the amber list unless for “special circumstances”.

So that clears that up, then.

The question many people are asking this week is, why bother with an amber list of countries at all?

A simple list of banned countries would avoid the confusion, both for holidaymakers, those looking to visit loved ones, and travel companies.

Unlike stopping at a junction, booking a trip abroad is not something that happens in milliseconds, it takes weeks of planning. And so it needs clear rules.

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