Tanzer fears Brexit politics will delay aviation clarity

Agreement on UK-EU air access is paramount for the industry as the prime minister triggers the Brexit process and publishes a Great Repeal Bill this week.

Theresa May was due to kickstart the process on Wednesday and present the Bill on Thursday amid demands for more clarity from all sectors of business.

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer highlighted the travel sector’s concerns, saying: “The most pressing aspect is an aviation deal because there is no World Trade Organisation fallback position and the industry needs to be able to plan on the basis of understanding what access [to the EU] there will be.”

Tanzer believes ministers understand the importance of clarifying the situation, but fears a political hold-up to a resolution.

“We want certainty, and I believe the government has taken it on board,” he said. “[But] I’m worried about the inability to predict the politics of this.

“It’s not just a straightforward trade negotiation. Politics could cut across it dramatically.

“Economic logic would say ‘Let’s carry on’ [as we are], because it benefits both sides to have open trade, but no one knows if we will. “The issues have been put on the table, but the government has hundreds of priorities. The task is gargantuan and everybody is saying their issue is the most important.”

He added: “The government has adopted a no-comment strategy [so far], but I think that will begin to change this week. Insisting ‘We’re not saying anything’ will become more and more difficult.”

This year’s Travel Convention in the Azores in October will provide a chance to reflect on the first six months of Brexit negotiations. Tanzer said: “Either we’ll see the shape [of Brexit] or, more worrying, we won’t.”

World Travel & Tourism Council president and chief executive David Scowsill called on May last week to focus on four “key issues” facing travel, saying: “We urge the government to take into account the specific needs of our industry.”

He highlighted maintenance of a single aviation market for Europe, the need for labour mobility, visa-free travel and investment in border processes. Scowsill told Travel Weekly: “These issues are critical.” Yet he warned: “My guess is none of them will get any clarity for two years.

“Everything we’ve heard is that there can’t be piecemeal negotiations. [So] I can’t see these things being agreed absent of an overall trade agreement. That worries me. It took Canada seven years to do a trade deal with the EU, so two years seems optimistic.”

He insisted: “I’ve not seen anything [so far] to make me feel more optimistic.”