Opinion: In/out, shake it all about

Opinion: In/out, shake it all about

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The forthcoming referendum on UK membership of the EU is likely to dominate domestic politics in 2016. Stephen D’Alfonso, Abta head of public affairs, explains

It’s apt that the Package Travel Directive (PTD) appeared on the European Union rule book on December 31, so that this long-running Brussels process came to a formal end on the final day of 2015.

It is also rather fitting, in my view, that this piece of European regulation will shift to Westminster just as the political elites in London begin to manoeuvre on the question of the EU and Britain’s place within it.

In case you have been in hiding or have purposely tuned out of the story so far, here is a recap.

In 2013, the prime minister committed a future majority Conservative government to an in/out referendum on the UK’s relationship with Europe by the end of 2017.

Last year’s General Election delivered that Conservative majority, so we will be heading to the polls sometime before the end of 2017 to answer the question: ‘Should the UK remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’

The government wants to negotiate a new settlement with the EU ahead of confirming a date for the referendum, and a package of measures for the UK is set to be reached early in 2016.

The publicly-stated position of David Cameron is that the UK should remain in a reformed EU. However, the government does not currently have an official position.

Against a backdrop of continued economic uncertainty in the eurozone, and an expectation that the migrant crisis will resume come summer, the process of European integration will face challenges in 2016 and this could influence how UK voters approach the referendum.

Yet other than intelligent speculation, there is very little that can be said definitively at this time.

The outcome of the prime minister’s renegotiation will not be known until February at the earliest. We don’t have a date for the referendum, and we can only take an educated guess on what the major issues within the referendum debate might be.

The old adage that ‘a week is a long time in politics’ is fairly relevant here.

Despite the uncertainty, travel businesses should start to think about how a vote to ‘leave’ the EU might impact on their businesses.

To this end, Abta will be speaking to members in the New Year to consider the issues that matter most to travel and to our customers.

Not just the Package Travel Directive, but the various passengers’ rights regulations and the liberalisation of European aviation are initiatives from Brussels that have fundamentally changed the way our industry operates.

If the referendum on independence in Scotland in 2014 is anything to go by, the debate will pick up pace quickly, it will engage people and it is likely to become emotive – a factor symptomatic of the importance of the choice ahead.

2016 will be a year of significant political manoeuvring.


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