Industry leaders stress need to reinforce message to consumers. Ian Taylor reports.

Britain will leave the EU at 11pm on Friday after the government’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill received formal assent last week and was ratified by the EU.

The UK will end 47 years of EU membership, but nothing will change until January 2021. Instead, Britain enters a transition period to allow talks on the new relationship with the EU – Britain’s biggest trading partner, main travel destination and largest inbound market.

These talks won’t begin until March and must be concluded by the week of November 26 to be signed off by the end of the year. That is because prime minister Boris Johnson is determined to “get Brexit done” by December 31 despite the option to extend the transition.

We’ll be back to uncertainty’

Senior industry figures expressed relief at the new certainty around Brexit but fear fresh uncertainty later in the year.

Abta head of legal services Simon Bunce said: “The message that nothing is changing [for now] needs to be reinforced.”

He told an industry event in London hosted by law firm Travlaw: “Everything stays the same, but that is not the message the government is putting out. The government wants to say, ‘Things will be different’.”

He warned: “At the end of the year, we’ll be back to uncertainty. We could face the same issues we’ve faced already. Will something be done on healthcare? On driving licences? We don’t know.

“People will keep travelling. What we don’t want is for people to be surprised.”

Bunce suggested: “A big issue is that UK tour operators can sell [Atol-protected] packages across Europe currently. Unless something surprising happens, companies not registered in the EU will have to make arrangements to offer protection in each jurisdiction next year.”

Travlaw senior partner Matt Gatenby agreed, saying: “That is a big change. However, if you’re established in an EU state that allows you to sell across the EU.”

Gatenby said: “We have this breathing space, but we’re not seeing information from the government and we need to look at things now. We have clients saying ‘What is the Interbus Agreement going to mean? What is going to happen with posted workers?’”

Light at the end of the tunnel

The UK intends to join the existing EU Interbus Agreement as an independent member post-Brexit, enabling UK operators to continue to offer coach holidays and tours.

Advantage Travel Partnership leisure director Kelly Cookes said: “We see the light at the end of the Brexit tunnel. The peaks market is buoyant and we’re seeing double-digit growth. The key thing will be to get information out to customers when someone tells us something specific.”

Journalist Simon Calder warned: “When Boris Johnson says ‘Let’s get Brexit done’ he means ‘Let’s get Brexit started’. For the rest of 2020, nothing changes. After the end of 2020, we know nothing.

“I imagine we’ll get some uncertainty in the market from about the midpoint of the year.”