Dominic Raab has refused to apologise for the last-minute changes to quarantine rules for arrivals from Spain.
Holidaymakers were only told of the changes hours before they came in – meaning people enjoying a summer break in Spain will have to isolate for 14 days when they get back to the UK.
The Foreign Secretary said the eleventh-hour decision to scrap the “travel corridor” between both countries was made on Saturday after a spike in cases.
In an extraordinary twist, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was caught out by his own rules after travelling to Spain himself.
Labour branded the move “shambolic”, leaving holidaymakers “confused and distressed”.
Mr Raab said the decision was taken after the government received data on Friday showing a “big jump” in cases across mainland Spain.
“We took the decision as swiftly as we could and we can’t make apologies for doing so,” he told Sky News.
“We must be able to take swift, decisive action, particularly in relation to localised, or internationally in relation to Spain or a particular country, where we see we must take action.
“Otherwise, we risk re-infection into the UK, potentially a second wave here and then another lockdown.”
The senior Tory said he understood the move was “disruptive” but the UK had to be able to take snap decisions to keep the virus down.
And he warned that other countries could be taken of the safe list for travel.
Mr Raab said: “We monitor the risk in real time and we take decisive swift action.
“So there is an element of uncertainty this summer.”
He said workers caught up in the chaos should not be penalised by their employers, including being put on sick pay.
The Foreign Secretary fought back a smile when asked about Mr Shapps being caught by the government’s quarantine rules.
He added: “I think it shows the risk for everyone.”
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth condemned the chaotic handling of the decision.
“I understand why they’ve made the decision but, of course, the way in which this decision has been made in the last 24 hours is frankly shambolic,” he said.
“There are holidaymakers in Spain at the moment confused and distressed, there are people about to go on holiday to Spain and the islands like Tenerife who are confused, and they don’t know whether their employers will allow them to take two weeks’ quarantine – the Government is just saying, ‘we hope that employers co-operate’.
“Well, to be frank, I hope I win the lottery on Saturday but that doesn’t mean it is going to happen.”
Tui, the UK’s biggest tour operator, cancelled all flights due to depart to mainland Spain and the Canary Islands on Sunday amid fury from the travel sector over the handling of the announcement.
Managing director Andrew Flintham said: “We’re incredibly disappointed that we didn’t get more notice of this announcement, or that this decision wasn’t made yesterday, as many Brits travel on holiday at the weekend.”
Quarantine rules apply from midnight on Sunday.