Abta urges government to maintain ‘freedom to travel’

Abta urges government to maintain ‘freedom to travel’

Travel association Abta set out the UK industry’s priorities for Britain’s exit (Brexit) from the EU in a report on ‘Making a success of Brexit for travel and tourism’.

Abta called for a deal to maintain freedom to travel “within Europe and beyond”, demanded protection of existing consumer rights and clarity on future arrangements to give businesses “operational stability”, and asked the government to “seize opportunities for growth presented by Brexit”.

The association also insisted: “It’s vital the government agrees effective transitional arrangements with the EU whilst the finer details of the UK’s exit are worked out.”

Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, triggered Brexit last week in a formal letter to European Council president Donald Tusk. The government also published a Great Repeal Bill to bring all existing EU legislation into English law from March 2019 when Britain leaves.

The EU responded by making clear it wouldn’t discuss future arrangements between Britain and Europe without “sufficient progress” on the terms of UK withdrawal.

The Abta report notes the value of the UK travel and tourism industry and says: “It’s essential the industry can continue to prosper, and holidaymakers and business travellers continue to travel freely and enjoy the benefits currently open to them.”

Abta director of public affairs Alan Wardle said: “We’ve been talking to ministers and associated partners privately for months. Now we want to put these arguments in the public domain. There are a lot of voices in the debate.”

An aviation deal is crucial. Wardle said: “All our flight arrangements with the EU, and with the US and Canada, are dependent on the EU.”

He acknowledged: “The UK Department for Transport absolutely gets that, and Britain’s transport secretary Chris Grayling has said aviation is absolutely his number-one priority in negotiations. But a deal has to be agreed.

“I’m confident a deal will be done, but it’s not automatic. There will be a negotiation.”

On consumer rights, Wardle said: “A lot of these agreements are reciprocal, like the European Health Insurance (EHIC) Card. They need to be negotiated and agreed, and the government is looking across 150 sectors.”

On employment, he added: “Tour operators rely on being able to post staff to other countries. Ensuring they will be able to do that is important.”

Wardle said: “If you read some of the UK press you could believe we just have to tell the EU what we want.

“We’ve worked hard to get the balance right between highlighting concerns and the belief that these issues can be resolved. But it’s a big negotiation and we need to ensure travel’s voice is heard.”

He warned: “We face two years of a lot of uncertainty, and uncertainty could be an issue for travel. That is why we want transitional arrangements.”

The EU response to May’s letter suggested agreement between the UK and Spain on the status of Gibraltar could prove a stumbling block.

Wardle said: “Gibraltar has clearly become an issue early on and the Government seemed blindsided by it. But it’s too early to say whether it will become a big issue.”

Abta has commissioned research into the value of the UK market to the EU and to particular EU countries. The findings will be published at Abta’s Travel Matters policy conference in London on June 28.

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