Directors from Aito, The Specialist Travel Association, have written to new prime minster Boris Johnson calling for support for small and medium-sized tour operators and warning against a “nuclear” no-deal Brexit.

In a joint letter to Johnson, chairman Derek Moore and director of industry issues Noel Josephides point to the more than 120 independent tour operators, 100-plus affiliated travel agents and 75 business partners and tourist boards among its membership.

They ask for a meeting with the prime minister, say the organisation generates “a considerable amount of tax” from the £1 billion in sales Aito tour operator members turn over per year – and reference the 3,500 people employed.

Calling on Johnson, who began his tenure as prime minister earlier this month, to protect Aito members and the travel industry at large, they wrote: “Aito members are, quite simply, amongst the very best holiday companies in the UK market.

“We wrote to [Conservative party leadership rival] the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt, then Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, some three weeks ago about the comments he made on TV to Andrew Marr, ie that he would willingly tell people whose companies went bust after a no-deal Brexit that ‘their sacrifice was necessary’.

“We regard his comment, made in respect of all UK-based SMEs, to have been cavalier in the extreme. We believe, based on your actions since becoming Prime Minister, that you share the same views as Jeremy Hunt.”

The letter added: “Whether our members and their employees voted leave or remain, they certainly did not vote to destroy their businesses by adopting a No-Deal Brexit. Neither did they anticipate the Conservative Party using them as sacrificial lambs – a great number of livelihoods, including those involving families of all ages, are at stake amidst the bluster and the campaigning that has gone on.

“Do you for a moment believe that those who voted for Brexit – the 52% majority, much vaunted in respect of the talk about how important it is to respect democracy – would have done so in the knowledge that Brexit would risk their businesses, their livelihoods and also the livelihoods of their thousands of employees? We and our travel industry colleagues do not believe that to be the case; plain common sense dictates otherwise. We emphatically do not wish to be cast into the doom and despair of the unemployed ghetto, to become mere statistics, without, seemingly, a second thought from our Government.

“The Government – the Conservative Party, ie your Government – has, over the past three years, done much to damage the reputation of the UK abroad. We have been seriously let down by the so-called ‘business party’, for which many of us have voted regularly in the past.

“We need to know from you, and to know urgently, what the prospects are for the travel industry, especially the specialist sector in which AITO sits. Our main markets are all EU members, and EU members are close colleagues of ours. The whole Brexit scenario has messed up consumer holiday bookings in their entirety for 2019, with the British public hugely confused about whether they should or shouldn’t book/could or couldn’t travel to Europe on holiday this year. A No-Deal Brexit will simply increase prices for all those travelling to Europe.

“The travel industry is not alone in despairing at its future if there is a No-Deal Brexit on 31st October.

“We urge you to think anew. Yes, we know that Brexit is your key aim – but does it have to be a No-Deal Brexit and to cause so much collateral damage and pain to so many? SMEs are, after all, the backbone of the UK’s economy.

“In our view it doesn’t need to be the nuclear option.”