Comment: May ends phoney war on EU exit

Comment: May ends phoney war on EU exit

The Brexit negotiations will be complex and demanding and we need to ensure there is a deal that works for travel, argues Abta director of public affairs Alan Wardle

The phony war is finally over. The prime minister has triggered Article 50, which sets in train the UK’s departure from the EU.

Since the result of the EU Referendum we have heard a lot about Article 50. But what does the triggering of it mean for travel businesses and travellers?

Article 50 formally begins a two-year process which should agree the terms on which the UK leaves and our future relationship with the EU and its members.

There has been a lot of talk about divorce terms, trade deals and hard and soft Brexits, but now the two sides sit down and start talking.

This does not mean Theresa May will be sitting down with the heads of EU states to begin talks today. There probably won’t be much action straight away.

The EU member states have to agree their negotiating terms, which could take a couple of months. We expect substantive discussions to begin around June.

Many of the issues the travel industry is concerned about – aviation, visa-free travel – are well known to politicians.

Abta has been speaking to politicians and civil servants about the things we need to preserve to ensure holidaymakers and business travellers can keep travelling to the EU, our biggest overseas market.

However, with so many issues under discussion in what is the biggest set of negotiations involving Britain since the end of the Second World War, it is vital that the industry’s voice continues to be heard.

We will keep raising issues in public and private, in the UK and in Europe, as the negotiations get under way.

Next week we will launch a report summarising the key points we are asking the Government to secure in the negotiations to make Brexit as successful as possible for the travel and tourism industry.

We will also be urging the Government to bring in any changes with sufficient notice for industry members to put in place transition plans so consumers can continue to book and businesses can plan ahead.

In the immediate term, the triggering of Article 50 does not change day-to-day business processes.

We will remain EU members until March 2019. Customers can still travel to the EU and continue to be protected by EU laws and regulations.

UK travellers will still be able to use their European Health Insurance (EHIC) Cards and travel to the EU without a visa.

EU legislation remains valid and new EU regulations will continue to be brought into UK law at least up until March 2019. So businesses will still need to comply with the revised EU Package Travel Directive which will come into force next year.

The main issue for the industry in the short term is the exchange rate. While the pound has recovered some of its losses since June 2016, the response of EU member states to Theresa May triggering Article 50 could produce further fluctuations in the value of the pound.

The Brexit negotiations will be complex, intense and demanding. They will require a lot of our energy and focus over the coming months to make sure we get a deal that works for travel businesses and travellers alike.

But the travel industry has dealt with many challenges and proved highly resilient over the years.

Abta will ensure that the voices of our members and the customers they serve are heard loud and clear throughout this process.

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