More British holidaymakers are expected to fly home from Tunisia today, after the Government urged them to leave the country amid fears of another attack.
Monarch Airlines confirmed that 125 of its customers had returned on a flight into Gatwick last night, and expected another flight to land at the airport this afternoon.
Extra flights were laid on across the weekend to evacuate up to 3,000 British package holidaymakers and 300 independent travellers who were believed to be in Tunisia.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond defended the repatriation of tourists, after protests from the north African country that the UK was playing into terrorists’ hands.
Some Britons in Tunisia voiced anger that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had not changed its travel advice to warn against visiting the country immediately after the June 26 attack in the resort of Sousse.
Gunman Seifeddine Rezgui murdered 38 holidaymakers, including 30 UK nationals, in an outrage for which the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility.
But others said they were disappointed to have to cut their holidays short.
Heidi Barlow, 34, said she was reassured by the armed guards posted at hotel entrances and beaches, adding: “People feel safe. They certainly didn’t expect to have to leave.”
Foreign tourism accounts for around 15% of Tunisian GDP, and the country’s ambassador in London, Nabil Ammar, warned: “This is what the terrorists want. By damaging the tourism, by having foreigners leaving the country, they damage the whole sector and put so many people out of work and on the streets.
“One of the sources of terrorism is lack of hope. It is not the only motor of it but it is one of the very important origins.”
Mr 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”.
Downing Street said that “substantial” work was needed to improve security for tourists, and it was likely to be “some time” before the advice against travel can be lifted.
The first disappointed holidaymakers, who arrived back in the UK at Manchester Airport yesterday, criticised the Government’s handling of the issue.
Tracey Caburn returned from Tunisia with her mother, Maureen Sudmore and sister Debbie Murphy, from Pontefract.
Mrs Caburn 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, 61, 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.”
Downing Street said the revised travel advice was based on information received over the previous 24 hours.
This included evolving intelligence about the threat to Britons in Tunisia; information from the Tunisian security authorities that people with possible links to the Sousse attack were still at large; and the results of a security assessment carried out by UK experts.
A Thomas Cook spokesman said it was “strongly advising” customers in Tunisia to return to the UK over the weekend, and was sending specialist assistance teams to the country to offer additional support in resorts.
Monarch Airlines is arranging to repatriate all customers in resorts “back to the UK as soon as possible”.
Tour operators Thomson and First Choice have no remaining customers in the country, but have cancelled all flights to Tunisia for the summer season.
Foreign Affairs Select Committee chairman Crispin Blunt indicated he would still be prepared to go on holiday to Tunisia as he said Mr Hammond would be questioned by MPs about the decision later this month.
Tory MP and former minister Mr Blunt said: “The Government stood with the people of Tunisia in the immediate wake of the gun attack and didn’t immediately change the travel advice when you might have expected them to do so.
“It’s not clear from the detail of Philip’s statement, and it may not be possible that he can say more, but this may be an opportunity for the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to ask him these questions when we are going to have him in front of us on July 21.”
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he had not seen the intelligence which prompted Mr Hammond to change the advice but added that other countries including France had not taken the same action.
“It’s obviously a matter of judgment rather than crystal clear,” he said.
Mr Blunt said getting the balance right was “difficult” but “it is dangerous in the United Kingdom, we have a very high threat level here, it is dangerous in other countries where British tourists go”.
The senior MP said he would be prepared to go on holiday to Tunisia but added that the advice meant “no one can get insurance, the major tour operators then are forced to evacuate their people there, it becomes very difficult for individuals then to exercise their own individual judgment”.
“But on the basis of what I know, would I be prepared to go myself? Yes.”