Abta will continue its call for a deal prioritising the needs of the travelling public and travel industry, says association chief executive Mark Tanzer

At Abta’s recent Travel Matters conference a few weeks ago, I reflected on the frustration felt by the travel industry about the lack of progress, or clarity, in the Brexit process. I talked about the urgent need for certainty on the major issues for businesses and the travelling public: aviation access, movement of key workers, VAT and consumer rights. And, that a ‘no deal’ exit from the EU would not be good for business.

Fast forward a few weeks and we’ve started to see some movement: Theresa May secured agreement from Cabinet for her Brexit blueprint and, less than a week later, the long-awaited Brexit White Paper was published, outlining the UK’s intentions for the future relationship with the EU.

While the debate continues to rage in Westminster in response to the White Paper – we have already seen senior Cabinet resignations and heated debate in the Commons over some controversial amendments to the Customs Bill – from a business perspective it does provide a starting point for a negotiation on the future relationship the Government wants with the EU.

Many of the main priorities Abta has been highlighting as essential to preserve a successful tourism industry – such as maintaining open skies access, remaining part of Easa, ensuring visa-free travel, and keeping the Ehic system – are featured in the White Paper. This is very encouraging and shows the Government recognises the value and contributions of the travel industry.

However, there is still a lack of clarity in a number of areas, for example in relation to consumer rights, the future of VAT and employment arrangements. The White Paper refers to agreeing flexible employment arrangements on a reciprocal basis for identified sectors, but there isn’t any detail on which sectors this covers, or what it might mean regarding the ability to post workers overseas. While on VAT, there is a plan for cooperation on goods, but no mention of an approach on services. I have written to the Chancellor to raise this issue.

It’s also important to remember that this is just one side of the story: how the UK wants the future relationship to work. The EU will have its own ideas, and so too will the individual nations. I know from the conversations I’ve had with EU leaders and destination countries that they want to continue to receive tourists and travellers from the UK, recognising the significant contribution our industry makes to their countries’ economies.

We also need to be aware that the UK politics around Brexit will continue to intensify. As an industry we do need to keep an eye on how this develops as it could affect the negotiations and the final deal.

As the process moves forward, Abta will continue to engage proactively, and to call for a pragmatic approach to the negotiations from both sides – seeking a deal that prioritises the needs of the travelling public and the travel industry.