The UK appears to have put itself on a possible collision course with the EU by imposing a ban on non-UK citizens coming from Denmark after more than 200 people in Denmark have been infected with COVID-19 strains related to mink.
But it is thought that the UK announcement, to be reviewed in a week, could contravene EU law on the free movement of people.
On Monday, the European Commission said these rules state that there should be “no distinction made between travellers of different nationality.”
The UK is still bound by this and other EU laws for the duration of the Brexit transition period until it expires on 31 December, a Commission spokesman told reporters at the briefing.
The Commission was asked about the UK announcement, which means UK citizens can return from Denmark but will have to isolate along with all members of their household for 14 days.
“This decision to act quickly follows on from health authorities in Denmark reporting widespread outbreaks of Coronavirus in mink farms. Keeping the UK public safe remains our top priority” UK government spokesman
The new measures, which took effect on Saturday, ban foreign visitors who have been in or transited through Denmark.
The UK measures expand the self-isolation requirements for returning Britons and residents to include all members of their household. Lorry drivers and freight handlers returning to the UK from Denmark must also self-isolate for two weeks.
Denmark's Minister of Foreign Affairs Jeppe Kofod called the travel announcement a “very drastic step” and said he had discussed them with UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
It is estimated that between 300 and 500 people have arrived in the UK from Denmark in the last 14 days.
A UK government spokesman said, “This decision to act quickly follows on from health authorities in Denmark reporting widespread outbreaks of Coronavirus in mink farms. Keeping the UK public safe remains our top priority.”
“Any restriction on free movement in the EU must be based on specific and limited public interest grounds, such as health” European Commission spokesman
The move has angered several airlines including Ryanair.
The Commission spokesman said that “any restriction on free movement in the EU must be based on specific and limited public interest grounds, such as health.”
He said that during the pandemic Member States are able to propose measures that may limit free movement but stressed that these “must not go beyond what is strictly necessary.”
Nor must they make a distinction between travellers of different nationalities, he said, adding that entry bans should only be introduced in “exceptional circumstances.”
The spokesman said, “Free movement rules continue to apply to the UK until the end of the transitional period. We cannot make a judgement call on this case but it seems to relate to UK nationals and EU residents and they must be treated equally.”
The UK and EU continued Brexit talks in London on Monday. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, sounded upbeat when he arrived for the talks but the UK said “significant” differences remain, not least on fisheries and the Irish border issue.