Minister John Whittingdale says there will be “some people coming in” for games but they will be under “strict restrictions”.
The government has changed its rules to allow football officials and VIP fans to attend games in the latter stages of Euro 2020 at Wembley Stadium.
Coronavirus travel regulations have been amended to state that individuals with a “Euro 2020 invite” will not have to self-isolate or quarantine in a hotel on arrival in the UK to attend one of the matches.
The list of those allowed to bypass the government’s quarantine restrictions includes executive members of UEFA, members of the council of FIFA and senior executives of the companies sponsoring Euro 2020.
A minister defended the move on Wednesday morning.
But Steve Baker, a member of the COVID Recovery Group of Conservative backbench MPs, said he believes the exemption for UEFA officials is “a breach of the rule of law”.
John Whittingdale told Sky News there will be “some people coming in” for the semi-finals and final of the tournament, but they will be under “strict restrictions as to what else they can do and we have measured those things very carefully”.
“We’re talking about a very limited number of people coming in and they’re also subject to quite significant restrictions,” the media minister said.
“They’re not just able to come in and travel around Britain. They come in to attend a match and go away again.
“We wouldn’t have been able to host the tournament at Wembley if we hadn’t allowed the players and people associated with the teams to come in to do so.”
Mr Baker said people are “entitled to be furious” about the exemption.
“People are entitled to be furious about this exemption for UEFA officials. Look, I want football to go ahead, but we can’t have any elite, any elite of any kind being allowed to be exempted from rules which are crippling others,” he told Sky News.
The Conservative MP added that “people are entitled to be furious about what I think is a breach of the rule of law”.
He continued: “If we think it is okay to bring people in without these rules then get the rules off.”
The full list of those exempt from travel restrictions after the government amended its regulations include:
- a member of the executive of UEFA or of a standing committee of UEFA
- a member of the council of FIFA or the Secretary General of FIFA
- a member of the executive body of a Confederation of Football Associations affiliated to FIFA
- a member of the executive or board of a member association affiliated to UEFA
- a senior executive of an organisation that is a sponsor or partner of the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship
- a senior representative of a country whose team is competing in the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship
Those permitted to come to the UK for the games will be subject to a code of conduct which includes daily testing, “designated hotels and private transport”, Downing Street said.
The government “wouldn’t do anything that compromises the safety of the public,” the PM’s official spokesperson said, confirming that there will be “penalties” for those who break the rules.
Pressed on whether international fans wanting to travel to the UK for the matches could also be exempt from quarantine, the PM’s official spokesperson added that the rules on inbound travel “are set out and remain in place”.
More than 60,000 fans will be able to attend the matches as part of the government’s trial of mass events, which is moving to its next stage.
Other events in the summer sporting calendar, including Wimbledon, the rugby league Challenge Cup Final and men’s international cricket involving England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will “also go ahead with greater capacities”, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said.
It comes after it was reported that visiting VIPs could be exempted from self-isolation rules to allow them to attend the matches.
According to the Times, the government is close to a compromise deal that will require UEFA and FIFA officials, politicians, sponsors and broadcasters to agree to only attend the games, in a move that would effectively place them in “bubbles”.
UEFA is believed to be lobbying for 2,500 VIPs to go to the final on 11 July without having to quarantine like other international travellers.
Labour’s John Healey told Sky News the development was an example of there being “one rule for them and one rule for the rest”.
“We have seen this time and again from ministers,” the shadow defence secretary said.
Mr Whittingdale said the decision to increase the capacity at Wembley was based on scientific advice and the government “won’t do anything” to put at risk the gains made in the fight against coronavirus.
He said ministers were moving to the next stage of its trial of mass events “where for a number of events we will increase the capacity”.
Mr Whittingdale added: “But at every stage we’re obviously listening to the scientific advice.
“We won’t do anything that will put public health at risk.
“Even though the capacity is going up, people will still be required to demonstrate that they’ve either had two vaccinations or that they’ve had a negative COVID test.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) told Sky News on Tuesday it is “concerned about the easing of restrictions in some of the host countries”.
David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy on COVID-19, said speaking as a public health doctor, there were “real questions to be asked” about the move because of rising cases in the UK.
He went on: “But as a citizen I am also thinking that it is time for us all to work out how we are going to get on with our lives.
“We can’t just stop doing everything because we are scared.
“Instead we have to learn how to pick up signs this virus is picking up in an area.”
Mr Whittingdale said the government would publish the results of its trials before step four of England’s roadmap out of restrictions, which is currently due to take place on 19 July.
“It’s a complicated exercise, it needs a lot of analysis, and obviously we want to be absolutely confident of the findings before we publish,” Mr Whittingdale said.
He continued: “I think that people will expect us to carry out a very thorough analysis, we’ve always made plain that we will publish and we will publish before we announce the next steps.”