Tunisia: Hammond defends evacuation decision

The Foreign Secretary has defended the repatriation of 3,000 British tourists after complaints from the north African country that the UK was playing into terrorists' hands.

British holidaymakers have begun returning home from Tunisia after the Foreign Office warned a further terrorist attack is "highly likely".

Around 3,000 British tourists are currently in Tunisia on package holidays. Three direct flights will be returning from the country to Britain today.

The Irish government has now joined the Foreign Office in warning travellers against visiting Tunisia.

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Most British tourists are now back home from Tunisia

The majority of British holidaymakers have now returned from Tunisia after the Foreign Office changed its travel advice for the country, saying that a terrorist attack is "highly likely" and suggesting people leave.

The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) said the majority of tourists on package holidays - about 90% of the total number - would be home or on their way home.

Thomson and First Choice said all their customers are back home, and a Thomas Cook spokesman said all its customers have arrived back over the last few days - with 400 people returning on Friday, 700 yesterday and 900 today, he said.

Monarch Airlines said 250 people landed on its flights into Gatwick and Manchester today, after just 22 people were on the airline's flight into Gatwick yesterday.

Tunisia's prime minister Habib Essid had said he "regrets" the UK Government's decision to fly its citizens home, and that his government was working to remedy "shortcomings".

Cameron invites Harman to national security meeting

Acting Labour leader PA Credit: PA

David Cameron has taken the unusual step of inviting the Leader of the Opposition Harriet Harman to attend a National Security Council meeting on the threat posed by Islamic State jihadism.

The government is attempting to build a consensus on expanding the RAF's campaign of air strikes on Isis forces in Iran to Syria, and will also cover the elevated threat to British tourists in Tunisia following the Sousse beach massacre.

As well as Ms Harman, shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker has been invited to the NSC, with Downing Street sources indicating the Prime Minister believes it would be "helpful" for the Labour figures to attend "given recent events".

Mr Cameron believes Isis needs to be confronted in its Syrian stronghold but is reluctant to ask MPs to vote on extending British military action into the country unless he can be assured of Labour's support.


Evacuated Brits call Tunisia pullout a 'disgrace'

Brits queue at a Tunisian airport to board flights home. Credit: Reuters

Brits returning from Tunisia over safety fears have called the handling of the evacuation a "disgrace".

Tracey Caburn, who was on holiday with her mum and sister, arrived back at Manchester Airport today after cutting their break short.

She said: "It's a disgrace. We felt safe. We would've stayed there. We didn't feel threatened at all. There were guards on the roof, the gates, the beach. We wanted to stay.

"If they were going to bring us home so quickly they should not have let us fly out in the first place."

Les Aston from Shrewsbury was also disappointed to be home.

He said: "They let us go out there and now we've been brought back home. It makes no sense. The staff were in tears when we left the hotel. Tourism in Tunisia will be ruined."

Hammond defends Tunisia evacuation decision

The Tunisian government says the decision plays into the terrorists' hands. Credit: Reuters

The Foreign Secretary has defended the repatriation of 3,000 British tourists after complaints from the north African country that the UK was playing into terrorists' hands.

Philip Hammond said the Government had been careful not to act in a "knee-jerk manner" by urging Britons to quit Tunisia after the Sousse attack, and said the UK will continue to work with Tunisia on improving security and hoped to downgrade the travel advice "in the not too distant future".

UK Ambassador: Threat level decision not taken lightly

The British Ambassador to Tunisia has said he knows many people will be disappointed at having to cut short their holidays there, but that the decision to change the threat level "wasn't taken lightly".

Hamish Cowell said investigations into the attack have made it clear "the threat level has increased", prompting the Foreign Office to change its travel advice.

On Thursday, the Foreign Office urged all Britons to leave Tunisia and advised against "all but essential travel" to the country.


Ireland government advises against Tunisia travel

The Irish government has joined the Foreign Office in warning travellers against visiting Tunisia.

Following consultations and consideration of the security situation in Tunisia, Irish citizens are being advised to avoid non-essential travel to Tunisia in light of increased security concerns.

We are encouraging any Irish visitors to Tunisia to review whether their presence in Tunisia is essential and, where it is not, we are advising them to leave by commercial means.

Any Irish citizens in Tunisia who are not yet registered with the Department but who plan to remain in Tunisia are advised to register without delay.

Why has the travel advice for Tunisia changed?

Thousands of Britons are expected to start flying home from Tunisia today after the Government urged them to leave immediately.

But why - two weeks after the Sousse massacre and three months after the Bardo Museum attack - has the advice changed only now?

  • Until yesterday, the Foreign Office had warned of the "high threat from terrorism" in Tunisia but stopped short of advising people not to go
  • This was despite an attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis three months earlier which killed 21 tourists and one Tunisian
  • It didn't change immediately after the Sousse massacre which left 30 Britons dead on June 26
  • But the Foreign Office has now said the "intelligence and threat picture has developed considerably" since then and they believe another terror attack is "highly likely"
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