Cabinet minister Michael Gove says he is going on holiday to a Greek island which is experiencing wildfires – and official advice is the region is “safe”.
The housing secretary told Sky News he was heading to Evia – a large island just off the coast of Athens – in “just over a week”.
It has seen fires in southern parts of the island, which is around 100 miles long. The Greek islands of Corfu and Rhodes have also been gripped by flames in recent days, sparking mass evacuations.
Evacuations have taken place on Evia in recent days due to the situation there.
Mr Gove said the Foreign Office has advised it is “safe” to go to Rhodes, and the fact that “particular” parts of the island needed to be evacuated was “unfortunate”.
He added that it was “absolutely right” that people were still able to go on holiday to Greece.
Mr Gove said: “It’s a tragedy that these fires have ruined what should be… the happiest, the most enjoyable time of the year for many.
“But it is also the case that I think that the criticism directed at individual firms isn’t necessarily merited.”
The minister was staunch in his support for the travel companies, despite some people complaining that they were being flown to the wildfire zones up until last Saturday, or being left unable to get in contact with anyone as they try to return to the UK.
He also played down how widespread the blazes are.
Mr Gove said: “I think it’s the case that obviously the fires on Rhodes have been tragic, and my heart goes out to those affected.
“But it is also the case, I think, as the Greek minister for tourism was pointing out yesterday, that the fires – while horrific – have been restricted to one part of the island.
“So, again, appropriate advice has been followed, it’s been put forward by the Foreign Office here that it is safe to go to Rhodes – but obviously evacuation in a particular part of the island has been important.”
Praising the travel firms, Mr Gove said that “individual travel firms have actually shown a great degree of responsibility in making sure that they are available to take people back in some circumstances” – adding that they will “make their own commercial decisions in line with government advices”.
Alex Norris, Labour’s shadow levelling up minister, said he too would go on holiday to Rhodes if Foreign Office advice said it was safe.
There have been calls for the government to change its advice, as currently people cannot make claims for disruption due to fires on their insurance.
More British holidaymakers are due to return to the UK from fire-ravaged Rhodes on Tuesday as repatriation flights continue.
Hundreds of people have already landed at UK airports after parts of the popular Greek island went up in flames, forcing many to sleep in schools, airports and sports centres.
Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell estimated on Monday morning there were as many as 10,000 Britons on the island but the Foreign Office later said it would not be providing updates on the number of people repatriated.
Travel company TUI has cancelled all flights to Rhodes up to Friday, while Jet2 and fellow tour operator Correndon have also scrapped flights leaving for the island in the next few days.
Thomas Cook cancelled some upcoming holidays and is offering other customers full refunds should they wish to cancel their trips.