THE four governments of the UK are “very close” to an agreement on the lifting of restrictions over Christmas to enable people to visit loved ones across borders, Grant Shapps, the UK Transport Secretary, has suggested.

However, it is thought that there have been disagreements behind closed doors as to the scope and duration of any lifting of restrictions and any deal might not be agreed until Thursday when Boris Johnson is due to announce which tiers apply to different parts of England; this is expected to spark major political fall-out from those areas facing the toughest restrictions.

Mr Shapps said talks between the four UK nations were moving "very close" to agreeing rules on festive gatherings.

Asked if an announcement was due today, he told the BBC's Radio 4 programme: "No, what you will wait for is the tier system to come out and an announcement about Christmas at the same time unless, of course, it is the case that the four different parts of the UK, the devolved administrations, are ready to do that in which case we will let people know as soon as[possible]...I would have thought we will provide it on Thursday but I don't rule out...Stand by your radios."

The talks involving Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office Minister, and the leaders of the devolved administrations, Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford and Arlene Foster, are continuing today at a virtual meeting of the Cobra emergencies committee.

They come amid a warning from the Prime Minister for people to be cautious over Christmas. He made clear now was “not the moment to let the virus rip for the sake of Christmas parties,” stressing: “Tis the season to be jolly but it is also the season to be jolly careful, especially with elderly relatives.”

Mr Shapps stressed how people should consider not travelling by train at Christmas due to the rail network’s “limitations”.

With major engineering work across Britain’s railways and capacity constraints to enable social distancing, the Secretary of State urged people to “look very carefully at the transport route they take” when planning Christmas trips.

He told BBC Breakfast: “We have got to understand there are limitations to the [rail] network caused by, for example, things like the need on some trains to pre-book tickets at this time, in order to prevent overcrowding.

“So, we are going to be appealing to people to look very carefully at the transport route they take and of course even making a choice about whether they travel at all.

“It is the reality of the situation we’re in; we will try to do everything we can with the network to make it as good as possible but it is worth people being aware that busy times of travel is a problem.”

He pointed out that he was in “close contact” with transport leaders of the devolved governments to make Christmas travel plans, which he expected would be finalised “later this week”.

Engineering work will be carried out by Network Rail from December 23 to January 4.

Projects include track renewals, bridge replacements and improvements to signalling and overhead line equipment.

Most of the railway will stay open but some lines will be closed to allow the work to take place.

London King’s Cross station will be closed for six days from Christmas Day as a £1.2 billion upgrade of the East Coast Main Line continues.

London North Eastern Railway is warning that “alternative routes will likely be very busy and should also be avoided”.

The operator, which runs trains between the capital and Scotland, is also telling passengers to “avoid travel” on Christmas Eve and December 31 to January 3 because “services will be very busy with reduced capacity”.

Network Rail said there will be a “significantly reduced service” at the UK’s busiest railway station - London Waterloo - between Christmas Day and January 3.

This is to enable work to be carried out on lines approaching the station in a bid to improve punctuality.

Passengers are advised to check journey details before travelling.