Boris Johnson will be the next prime minister but it is likely Britain will not leave the EU on October 31, travel industry leaders were told yesterday.
Lord Daniel Finkelstein, associate editor of The Times and a former advisor to the Conservative Party, dismissed foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt’s chances of winning the Conservative leadership election as “less than 10%”.
He told Abta’s Travel Matters conference in London that Johnson would win because: “[Polls show] Conservative voters are willing to end the union [of the UK] to get Brexit.”
Finkelstein warned of “a period of great turbulence in British politics”.
He described the tensions over Brexit in the Conservative Party as greater than within Labour and said: “The big question is will they internalise this tension or allow the party to split.”
Luke Petherbridge, Abta head of public affairs, told the conference: “My personal belief is we won’t leave [the EU] on October 31.”
He conceded both candidates for Tory leader “disowned the current Brexit deal” and said: “Both have said we’re leaving on October 31.”
But Petherbridge argued: “I’m not sure either wants to own the political ramifications or the economic fall-out of no deal.
“The fact that they will have to own the deal will stop them driving over a cliff. They won’t be able to pass the buck.”
He added: “A lot of legislation would need to go through Parliament to prepare for no deal and there is not much time.
“The new prime minister will come in on July 23 and take office on July 25. The timing suggests we might not leave on October 31.”
Parliament is due to begin its summer recess on July 25 and is not set to return until after the party conferences in September.
However, Petherbridge said: “Business does still have to prepare for a no deal. Preparations for no deal will be ramped up by whoever wins because it sends an important signal [to the EU].”
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer told the conference: “We’ve spent a lot of energy on contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit and talked to consumers about what they need to do.
“It has been expensive and time consuming and there has been a drag on consumer confidence.”
He insisted: “Abta is against a no-deal Brexit. We encourage the next prime minister to try to deliver a deal.”
Shadow education minister Gordon Marsden, MP for Blackpool South, told industry leaders: “A no deal Brexit would be disastrous for the travel industry.”
Simon Hughes, chancellor of London South Bank University and a former Liberal Democrat MP, agreed saying: “It’s vital we don’t leave without a deal. It’s madness.”