EasyJet is to increase fares by more than 20 per cent and even higher at peak Christmas holiday times as the airline attempts to claw back losses totalling more than £2 billion.

George Eustice, the environment secretary, said that people could travel to amber list countries to visit friends.

Boris Johnson said, though, that people should not travel to amber list countries on holiday because of the risk of coronavirus variants. Airlines and tour operators accused the government of attempting to undermine international travel within two days of lifting the ban on foreign holidays. One industry source said that there was a “genuine fear” that the government might refuse to expand the green list this summer.

It had been widely anticipated that countries such as Spain, Greece, Italy and France would be added to the quarantine-free travel list next month, in time for the start of the peak summer season.

The confusion was compounded by mixed messaging over the status of amber countries. Eustice told Today on Radio 4: “We don’t want to stop travel altogether and the reason that we have the amber list is there will be reasons why people feel they need to travel, either to visit family or indeed to visit friends.”

The prime minister overruled him, saying that the destinations, which include almost all of Europe, were off limits unless travellers “absolutely have to for some pressing family or urgent business reason”. Johnson added that an amber country was “not somewhere where you should be going on holiday”.

Lord Bethell went further, suggesting that people should not even travel to countries on the green list. He said: “Travelling is dangerous. That is not news to us, or to the people who get on those planes in the first place. We do ask people, particularly as we go into the summer, travelling is not for this year, please stay in this country.”

An analysis by Travelling for Business shows that at least 151 flights took off from major UK airports to countries on the amber list yesterday. They included 95 flights to European countries, with 21 to Spain. Scores of Britons arrived on the Greek island of Crete despite it being on the amber list. Many said that the government’s advice was unreasonable. “It’s kind of silly,” said Devon Deblin. “They [the government] gave me the green light to go. But now that I have done so, made plans, paid for my ticket, they say ‘stop, don’t go’.”

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, which represents carriers such as British Airways and EasyJet, said that Bethell’s remarks were “simply not correct and will cause real anger amongst the hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on international travel”. Paul Charles, chief executive of PC Agency, the travel consultancy, said that people had been put off booking because of “government mixed-messaging”.