Travel industry leaders have been warned to expect the “grinding uncertainty” of Brexit to continue whatever the outcome of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s push to leave on October 31.
Peter Foster, Europe editor of the Daily Telegraph, issued the warning at Abta’s Travel Convention on Tuesday saying the “full long-term impacts of Brexit have yet to emerge”.
He said he was less certain about future UK-EU relations than he was two years ago.
“The vote to leave has relentlessly polarised British politics. It opened the door to a period of grinding uncertainty which is likely to continue,” Foster told delegates.
He forecast Johnson would be forced to seek an extension of Brexit.
“Theresa May’s version of Brexit tried to preserve a frictionless trade relationship,” Foster said. “Boris Johnson’s version would introduce significant frictions between the UK and EU. It’s a step change.”
He warned: “The EU will not allow a de-regulated competitor on its doorstep. It means a long and grinding process. For now, they can’t even agree the divorce process that will begin the negotiation.”
In the short term, Foster said: “The British government’s proposals have been rejected. We’ll know by Friday at the latest if there is any prospect of a deal.
“I don’t feel any optimism on either side. There is too much political risk. The EU presumes Johnson will look to keep his hard Brexit credentials intact. By the end of the week it will be clear.
“We’ll have the October EU Council summit [on October 17-18]. There will almost certainly be an extension request – I can’t see a way the legal requirement can be avoided.
“The EU is going to groan and express frustration but will grant an extension. Then we’ll head for a general election.”
He acknowledged: “There are some alternative possibilities – for example, that parliament attempts to seize control. [But] it’s likely there will be a general election.”
Foster added: “Winter elections are unpredictable, [and] it will be one of the nastiest, most divisive elections of modern times.”
Asked the likely outcome, he said: “Polls suggest Boris is the only one capable of winning a majority. What we don’t know is how much a Brexit extension request will turbocharge the Brexit Party.
“Recent elections have not been delivering majorities. The smart money is on a hung parliament.
“[But] whatever the result, the UK will face the same conundrum about what kind of Brexit it wants.”
Foster insisted: “The parameters of the decision remain the same. [Even] a no-deal Brexit is not the end of Brexit. The Brexit argument has barely begun.”
Speaking earlier, Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer told the Convention: “Abta has been studiously neutral on Brexit. What we have been vocal about is the need to avoid no deal.
“It is still one of the possibilities just days away and we have to tell members, and members of the public, to prepare for it.
“Not only is the threat of no deal costly in terms of preparation, it’s also damaging to consumer confidence. In the run up to the March deadline we saw an industry slowdown and the same pattern is repeating itself.”
Tanzer said: “We need to find our way back to the middle ground because that is where consumer confidence is built.
“I have no idea what the political outcome of Brexit will be, but afterwards we need to return to a new normal.”