Monday, 11 July 2016

Keep calm, and carry on travelling

What are the long-term implications of Britain’s Brexit vote for tourism and travel? Go Holiday editor David Kernek peers through the euro-mist

BRITAIN’S ‘No’ vote to European Union (EU) membership was arguably as seismic for this country (which for the time being comprises England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) as the 16th century Protestant reformation in Europe, the establishment of the English republic in 1649, and – a century later – the loss of the American colonies. So it’s not surprising that the campaign run by a political class for which the Brussels Empire has been a gravy train for more than four decades – and for the hard-core Europhiles an article of faith – was a toxic cocktail of dodgy economic forecasts, threats, and groundless assumptions: the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he’d table punishment Budget if the country dared to vote the ‘wrong’ way, while his fellow Remainers told youngsters – people who have never known life outside the EU – that they’d not easily be able to spend their gap years in Paris, Florence, and Berlin … Belgium and Luxembourg seeming to have little appeal to our cosmopolitan teenagers.

I welcomed the referendum and applauded the result, yet I recognize that what happens next will be painful; the slumping £, however, means a short-term gain for Britain’s tourism sector … enquiries and holiday bookings from the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and EU states have increased sharply since June 24. We are, nevertheless, looking at the possible break-up of the union of England and Scotland (albeit with the Queen as head of an independent Scottish state) and two, possibly three, years in which skilled and determined negotiators will have to get the best possible exit terms while British legislators trudge through the law books to which of the thousands of EU directives and regulations can be binned and which kept and perhaps modified. Much of this work will have implications for travel and tourism, for Britain and the 27-member EU.

It’s far, far too soon to predict the likely outcome for holidaymakers and business travellers, but there are some assumptions that can be made fairly safely, putting aside the menacing growls from Brussels, Paris, and Berlin from Eurocrats who are explicably angered by the impending loss of their empire’s second-largest contributor:

Airlines: EU-US Open Skies agreement liberalizing international aviation is a development of the Netherlands-US deal signed in 1992, when it was at first opposed by the EU Commission. Preventing Britain signing up to it would not be in the trade interests of our continental neighbours, since their tourism industries – essential economic engines in southern Europe – would suffer. Freddie Laker pioneered the cheap flights boom in 1966, seven years before Britain joined the then European Economic Community (EEC), so it’s likely to survive Brexit.

Air Passengers Rights: Giving compensation rights to passengers when flights are delayed or cancelled, these derive from an EU regulation applicable currently in Britain. After exit from the EU, parliament can carry it over into UK law – unchanged or amended – or ditch it.

Visas: These weren’t necessary for travel by British citizens to the countries of what was then the EEC – and vice versa – before 1973. It’s reasonable to assume they won’t be post-Brexit. It’s similarly realistic to forecast that the open-borders Common Travel Area agreement – which dates back to 1922/3 – between Britain, the Irish Republic, and Northern Ireland will endure.

Passports: UK passports will in time be re-designed, with references to the European Union deleted. Whether or not we’ll see a comeback for the old blue ones remains to be seen.

Aliens: It’s been suggested – by Remain campaigners – that EU citizens resident in the UK and Brits in EU states could be told go back, as it were, where they came from, thus making expats pawns in Britain’s exit negotiations. Lawyers differ (as they often do) as whether the 1969 Treaty of Vienna protects the so-called acquired or vested rights of residence, but even the europhile think tank British Influence thinks that it does: ‘International law should be sufficient to protect acquired rights. For example, under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, while parties to a treaty can be released from future obligations by withdrawing from the agreement, rights, and obligations acquired under the same treaty are not affected.’

Mobile phone roaming charges: Under EU law, holidaymakers and business travellers will be able to call, text and surf at UK rates in all EU states from mid-2017. It will be up to the UK parliament to either continue the ban on roaming charges … or not.

Duty frees: Duty-free shopping was abolished by the EU, but it could be restored after Brexit.

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC): This entitles UK travellers to the same, free healthcare available in other EU countries. Keeping it will be an agenda item for the Brexit negotiations, and would depend on enabling EU citizens equivalent access to Britain’s national health service.

But little if anything will change for at least two years, so keep calm and carry on travelling.

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