Abta’s head of public affairs gives his take on the effect of December’s general election on the ongoing Brexit turmoil.
The 31 October deadline has come and gone, yet the UK remains a member of the European Union. So what happens next?
The usual caveat applies; everything below relies on logic and that’s not a given in UK politics right now.
For Brexit-weary business leaders and consumers, there does appear to be the promise of positive news when we examine the positions of the political parties heading into the first December election in nearly 100 years.
For, whatever the result of the election, a no-deal outcome at the end of January 2020 seems a more remote possibility than was the case ahead of Halloween.
As the General Election campaign gets under way, the governing Conservative Party has a comfortable poll lead of around nine points, according to the latest BBC ‘poll of polls’.
This would translate into a comfortable double-digit majority, although many factors at play suggest it won’t be quite so simple.
Should Boris Johnson emerge victorious, there is an existing deal ready to sign off, which has received broad support from his MPs.
Under that deal the UK would enter a standstill transition period until at least December 2020.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party has promised to renegotiate with the EU before holding a ‘confirmatory referendum’.
This would likely require a further extension from the EU until July 2020.
And the Liberal Democrat position is even more clear-cut – revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU.
Given the positions above, it is difficult to see how any coalition of these parties would not also result in a referendum with two possible outcomes, deal or remain.
The big unknown factor is the Brexit Party, but the current chance of their candidates being elected in sufficient numbers to be a major force post-election remains minimal.
The two viable remaining paths to a January no-deal would appear to be (1) a complete policy reversal from the prime minister, abandoning his deal – but there is no reason to see why this would happen and it would mean accepting the blame for whatever might follow or (2) the re-election of a Parliament with no stable majority at all, but in that scenario, MPs have previously moved to block no-deal where no agreed deal has been possible.
That’s the positive news for avoiding a no-deal Brexit, but it might only be that way for the short term.
Perhaps the more concerning longer-term scenario is the risk of a no-deal in December 2020 at the end of the envisaged transition period.
Just looking at travel, the list of outstanding items is daunting. Everything from a new Air Service Agreement to reciprocal healthcare access for citizens remains unresolved and up for discussion.
And, we’re only one sector. Is there adequate time to do the deal that is needed in the time given? The answer would clearly appear to be no.
Yet, the current position of the Conservative Party is to reject the available extension to transition, which would extend the standstill arrangement until the end of 2022.
It can only be hoped that a comfortable majority would alter the prime minister’s attitude to this transition period – and bring about the room to manoeuvre to a more pragmatic position on the time required for future trade talks.
So, all eyes could soon be on extending transition next July. If not, we could well be headed for another period of no-deal uncertainty at the end of next year.
This article was first written for ABTA’s Travel Law Today issue number eight, which can be downloaded at abta.com/travellawtoday