ITT members voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, but as the end of the transition period looms, the travel, aviation and hospitality industries now face the enormous challenge of ensuring the UK does not leave without a deal and incur the damage this would inflict on our sectors.
Senior European figures have complained of an “unprecedented breach of trust” over the recently announced UK legislation to allow the UK government to renege on key aspects of the deal struck with the EU only a matter of months ago.
Ministers also announced the UK could revert to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules at the end of the year – WTO rules apply only to goods and not to services whereas EU rules apply to goods and services, including those in the travel, aviation and hospitality sectors.
To put it simply, there are no WTO rules for travel, aviation and hospitality. We should, therefore, be seriously concerned by the prospect of no deal, and should be doing everything within our power to persuade the UK government that no deal would be a disaster for the aviation and travel sectors.
At the last general election, Brexiteers assured those innocents who were naive enough to believe them that getting a deal with our partners in the rest of the EU would be a cakewalk and that during their negotiations about a post-Brexit deal, the UK would be able to have its cake and eat it.
The Brexiteers sold Brexit to the public on the promise of an “oven-ready” deal. All we see, nine months on, is a recipe for chaos. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings fooled people into believing they could “take back control” while retaining all the advantages of the single market.
Last week, the Washington Post summed up world reaction as follows: “So-called Brexit would be the economic equivalent of quitting your job because you think you can get it back minus all the parts you don’t like. In other words, a fantasy.”
If you resign from a club, you are in a pathetically weak position to negotiate your future relationship. The former prime minister of Finland Alexander Stubb, who over the past 25 years has been involved in negotiating four EU treaties and many other EU deals, said recently: “What the UK is doing now is unprecedented. I am worried where it will all lead. It is never a good idea to put ideology before reality.”
In a letter to The Times last week, leading doctors said a failure to strike a deal with the EU could jeopardise the health of patients. They also warned that no-deal disruption could lead to shortages of medicines.
As things stand, despite all the talk of WTO rules, there has been absolutely no mention of the service sector in general and of the travel, aviation and hospitality industries in particular.
Pilots union Balpa is extremely concerned about the talk of no deal, and has called for mutual recognition of pilot licences, and clarity around the ability of UK and EU pilots to fly aircraft registered in each other’s jurisdictions, as well as employment rights.
Balpa says there must be a new agreement in place if flights are to continue between the UK and the EU. The travel industry is in an incredibly fragile state right now. Any further political posturing could be fatal.
Nevertheless, secretary of state for agriculture, George Eustace, says that leaving the EU with no deal, which would put 40% tariffs on British beef, cheese and other foods, is a good outcome because we will have regained our sovereignty. I am not sure our farmers will agree.
With no deal, there is the real possibility the EU will impose tariffs on services and technology, which could have devastating consequences for the travel industry.
All this is being imposed on an economy that will be struggling with the repercussions of lockdown, and possibly a second wave of coronavirus. Quarantine restrictions may prove to be the least of our worries.
If we are to rethink our industry in a post-pandemic world, we shall need all the international friends we can get.
We should, therefore, take the words of Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, very seriously when she said: “If the UK violates the EU international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the US Congress.”
We need a deal with the EU now.
Steven Freudmann is chair of the Institute of Travel and Tourism.