Corporate travel leaders have been promised “a sensible outcome” to negotiations on an EU-UK trade deal by a former travel industry executive who is now in the UK government.
Gillian Keegan, Tory MP for Chichester, said: “It’s simple to see where the clear waters lie. Any business person could look at the [UK and EU] negotiating positions and see where a deal can be done.”
She told a Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and Institute of Travel Management (ITM) symposium in London: “We’ll start with a broad agreement. All industries will be putting pressure on governments not to get it wrong. It’s do-able.”
Keegan, a parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Health, formerly worked for travel technology companies Travelport and Amadeus before entering Parliament in 2017.
She argued the previous round of Brexit negotiations on UK withdrawal from the EU “started very unequally”.
Keegan said: “The whole of the previous negotiation was about stopping Brexit. That is no longer an option.”
Now she said: “We are in a stage of positioning. The biggest leverage the EU has is to talk about friction.
“But the negotiations will come up against reality. We start from a position where we are aligned [and] no one wants to tip their economy into recession.
“We are not going to enter a race to the bottom, but we are not going to be dictated to.”
She insisted: “There will be a sensible outcome. We start 100% aligned and need to figure out how to stay quite close without us taking orders.”
Keegan added: “This government will only get re-elected if it keeps the economy going – that is a check to ensure sensible outcomes.
“We bet the economy can grow at least as quickly [outside] as in the EU. There is a great opportunity to be nimble.”
However, political commentator and broadcaster Steve Richards told corporate travel leaders: “I disagree that the UK has a huge amount of leverage.
“A lot of cabinet ministers last time said, ‘Watch the EU fold’. It never happened. The EU is very clear. If the UK opts for divergence, there will be tough negotiations ahead.”
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