Shocked travel organisations have rallied to dispel a leaked report suggesting the government was poised to warn consumers not to book a holiday post-March in a no-deal Brexit scenario.

The trade immediately branded the The Sunday Times report as “hugely damaging” in the lead-up to its busiest sales period.

The report claimed the government was even considering bailing out travel companies that it feared may face bankruptcy as part of a contingency plan for a no-deal Brexit.

Abta and the government immediately dismissed the report as “categorically untrue”.

Abta responded this week with a social media advertising campaign stressing that flights will continue after March 29 whether there is a Brexit deal or not. It urged agents to relay the message (see box).

Chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “We are encouraging Abta members to share our Brexit advice with customers.”

He added: “Abta is providing a robust response to the report in the Sunday Times, with a focus on supporting consumer confidence. We are reaching out to consumers directly through a social media advertising campaign – providing reassurances that deal or no-deal, flights will continue and we are also directing people to abta.com/brexit for further advice.

“On Sunday the national media included our statement, which refutes the claim and highlights that the European Commission has confirmed that, even in the event of a no-deal, flights will operate and a visa will not be required. We have since written to the Sunday Times to raise our concerns about the article, and have also been in touch with Ministers and officials at government.”

Post-Brexit travel advice is available to download in the members’ section of its website.

The Specialist Travel Association (Aito) wrote to transport secretary Chris Grayling and its local MP, leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Vince Cable, who has pledged to raise the issue in Parliament before Christmas.

Cable said: “The government isn’t going to apologise since creating fear and uncertainty is part of its strategy. I will, however, raise in Parliament the specific issue of the damaging rumours about travel and seek more clarity.”

Aito executive director Kate Kenward called for the government to take out full-page adverts in national newspapers to confirm holidays will go ahead as normal.

Travel agency groups this week briefed staff to answer questions from clients, while suppliers put out messages of reassurance with just 100 days to go before the UK leaves the EU. The European Commission is due to issue its no-deal Brexit contigency plans today.

John Sullivan, head of commercial at Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “The timing is clearly unhelpful as we go into peaks. Hopefully it will be yesterday’s news by the new year.”

Miles Morgan Travel managing director Miles Morgan said: “This has played out like a pantomime – the only problem is it’s an incredibly serious subject. Any kind of story like this is not good for the industry. January will be a real challenge.”

Tailor Made Travel managing director Simon Morgan added the story was “unnecessarily scaring the public”.

Tui confirmed flights would continue over Europe, even in a no-deal Brexit. It said: “We will operate holidays to the EU as planned.”

P&O Cruises issued a ‘Brexit Promise’ guarantee its holidays would continue to be “plain sailing”, whatever the outcome of Brexit.