Shapps hints foreign flight costs could rise to cut levy on UK trips

Could foreign holidays get MORE expensive in transport overhaul? Grant Shapps hails plan to cut Air Passenger Duty for UK travel but warns it will ‘not collect less tax overall’

  • Grant Shapps has hailed plan to cut Air Passenger Duty for domestic flights
  • Mr Shapps said it is ‘bizarre’ return trips to Edinburgh taxed more than Barcelona
  • But the Transport Secretary said the levy will not raise any less tax overall  

Grant Shapps today hailed plans to cut Air Passenger Duty for domestic flights – but hinted that foreign travel costs might have to rise as a result.

The Transport Secretary said the current system where return journeys within the UK could face a higher levy than trips abroad was ‘bizarre’.

In a round of broadcast interviews, he insisted the proposed overhaul would make sure people were not ‘penalised’ when traveling within the UK. 

But he added that APD would not ‘collect any less’ tax overall – suggesting other aspects will need to rise to offset any reduction.

The comments came after Boris Johnson said he wanted to ‘build back better’ from the coronavirus crisis in a way that brings ‘every corner of the UK closer together’.

A consultation is being launched this spring on reforming air passenger duty – a tax on passenger flights from UK airports – in a bid to improve transport connecting all four nations.

Grant Shapps said the current system where return journeys within the UK can face a higher levy than trips abroad was ‘bizarre’

In a round of broadcast interviews, Mr Shapps insisted the proposed overhaul would make sure people were not ‘penalised’ when traveling within the UK

The Government will also commit £20million to develop plans for upgraded rail, road, sea and air links – and explore new requirements to offset emissions and decarbonise aviation.

‘Boris’ Burrow’: The £10billion tunnel to connect Northern Ireland to the mainland

‘Boris’ Burrow’ is the nickname for a 25-mile, £10billion, undersea tunnel that would link Stranraer in Scotland and Larne in Northern Ireland. 

Studies are currently being undertaken by the chairman of Network Rail, Peter Hendy, to find out if the 25-mile tunnel would be possible.

A direct tunnel from Stranraer to Larne would have to cross Beaufort’s Dyke – where 1.5million tonnes of munitions were dumped after the Second World War

Mr Hendy has already met the Prime Minster to discuss his findings and his report is expected to be released within a matter of weeks.

But The Times last week reported that officials at Number 10 decided the 25-mile tunnel idea may be impractical.

Instead, officials have suggested three tunnels, starting from Stranraer, Liverpool and Heysham in Lancashire, could meet at a roundabout at the Isle of Man, before a tunnel stretched on to Larne.

The roundabout could be dubbed Douglas Junction – after the island’s capital, according to reports.

A link between Scotland and Northern Ireland was first proposed by Boris Johnson during the Tory leadership race in 2018 in the form of a bridge. 

‘What we need to do is build a bridge between our islands,’ he declared, during an interview that was highly critical of Theresa May’s leadership.

‘Why don’t we? Why don’t we? There is so much more we can do, and what grieves me about the current approach to Brexit is that we are just in danger of not believing in ourselves, not believing in Britain.’

The money will be spent on exploring the development of projects including improved rail connectivity between the north coast of Wales and England; upgrading the A75 between Gretna, Dumfries and Stranraer; faster rail links from England to Scotland and rail improvements in south-east Wales.

Speaking about the APD reform, Mr Shapps told Sky news: ‘What this is about today… is this bizarre situation where you pay less tax if you are flying to say London to Barcelona than you do if you are flying London to Edinburgh and back.

‘Which is a somewhat bizarre situation. So what we have said today is we will carry out a consultation, we will look at how we can do this more fairly, and we will ensure that people are not penalised effectively for travelling within the UK, which is what we are talking about here – as opposed to paying less when you travel abroad and come home, which does seem like it’s the wrong way round.’

He added: ‘We will make sure overall it doesn’t collect any less tax, the system overall.’  

The move has been welcomed by the aviation industry.

But the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) said that cutting domestic flight duty ‘flies in the face of the Government’s climate commitments’.

General secretary Manuel Cortes urged the Government to invest in ‘truly green public transport’, such as rail, which is the ‘most effective intercity connection taking people to the heart of our towns and cities’.

It comes as an interim report by Network Rail boss Sir Peter Hendy, who is conducting a review of union connectivity, was published assessing ways transport can better connect all parts of the UK.

The report set out how a UK Strategic Transport Network would deliver the ambition – upgrading direct transport links, reducing delays and stimulating growth across the four nations.

In the report, Sir Peter said he has asked two experts to lead a ‘discrete piece of work’ to assess the feasibility of a bridge or tunnel between Northern Ireland and the British mainland.

Former HS2 Ltd chairman Douglas Oakervee and Gordon Masterton have been tasked with leading the technical review into such a link, with the PM in the past repeatedly suggesting the idea of a connecting bridge.

Mr Johnson said: ‘It’s now time to build back better in a way which brings every corner of the UK closer together.

‘We will harness the incredible power of infrastructure to level up parts of our country that have too long been left off the transport map.

‘This pioneering review by Sir Peter Hendy gives us the tools we need to deliver on our ambitions for a UK-wide transport network that encompasses sea, rail, and road – and I also want to cut passenger duty on domestic flights so we can support connectivity across the country.’

The Prime Minister is set to launch a consultation this spring on reforming the tax – on all passenger flights from UK airports

He is set to announce a new £20million infrastructure fund. The money will be on top of the £10billion sidelined for the ‘Boris Burrow’ – an ambitious undersea tunnel connecting Larne in Northern Ireland to Stranraer in Scotland (pictured: A map showing the proposed link)

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson said the UK had suffered by not having a UK-wide transport strategy, and had instead lost out by leaving it to the EU under its TransEuropean Transport Network.

‘The result is that the sinews of pan-UK transport have atrophied, with inadequate connections, needless bottlenecks and endless delays on the vital links between one part of the UK and another,’ Mr Johnson said.

He added: ‘It’s currently quicker to get a train from Cardiff to Paris than from Cardiff to Edinburgh. With some bypasses, better track and signalling, as Sir Peter believes, we could run services from Glasgow to London in about three hours, and carry more freight too.

Sir Peter said: ‘Devolution has been good for transport but it has also led to a lack of attention to connectivity between the four nations, due to competing priorities and complex funding.

‘A UK Strategic Transport Network could resolve this, with its core objective centred around levelling up across the whole of the UK.’

Greece gives green light for tourists from May 14: Holiday hotspot will reopen to international visitors who are vaccinated or can show proof of a negative Covid test, minister says 

Greece is planning to reopen to British holidaymakers from mid-May – even if they have not received the vaccine.

Yesterday Harry Theocharis, Greek tourism minister, said the country would be open to international tourists who are vaccinated, have antibodies or can show proof of a negative Covid test.

Greece will reopen its borders on May 14 – three days before the earliest date at which Britons can travel abroad, according to Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown.

Addressing the ITB Berlin trade show, Mr Theocharis said: ‘Our only ambition is to ensure Greece is open to allow anybody who wishes to visit to be able to do so.’

Greece is planning to reopen to British holidaymakers from mid-May – even if they have not received the vaccine (stock image)

He added that all holidaymakers will be subject to random testing.

It is thought tourists will be able to enter restriction-free after their first jab and children will need to arrive with a negative test. But the final details are still being sorted.

Greece joins countries such as Cyprus which have already announced they will welcome UK tourists once restrictions are lifted.

All tourists will be subject to random testing, the Greek government said.

Tourism accounts for around a fifth of the Greek economy and employs one in five workers.

Mr Theocharis said the authorities would prioritise the vaccination of people working in the hospitality industry once the most vulnerable had received their jab, and were mandating the frequent testing of employees.

He stressed how the country had been able to successfully ‘open tourism safely’ in 2020 when it welcomed six million visitors before a virus resurgance forced it to shut again.

British holidaymakers will be able to travel overseas from May 17 at the earliest, Mr Johnson announced last month, with the government’s reconvened Global Travel Taskforce due to present its recommendations to the Prime Minister on April 12.

Greece will reopen its borders on May 14 – three days before the earliest date at which Britons can travel abroad, according to Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown (stock image)

Mr Theocharis said demand in the UK for holidays in Greece is ‘already picking up because there’s a lot more optimism with the way the vaccination programme is progressing.’

Simpson Travel, which specialises in Mediterranean holidays, said that about 90 per cent of villas on some Greek islands had already sold out for the summer.

In 2019, more than 3.5 million British holidaymakers travelled to Greece, the second highest number of international visitors after Germany.

Mr Theocharis said the country would also extend its summer season further into autumn this year. 

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