A standalone agreement between the EU and the UK on aviation could still be struck even if Brexit negotiations end in a no-deal, delegates at Abta’s Travel Convention were told.

The virtual event heard from Raoul Ruparel, Deloitte advisor on global Brexit insights, who gave an update as Brexit talks reach a critical stage.

He said there had been hopes that a deal would be signed off at an upcoming European Council meeting this week, but that there was still some distance between the sides in a number of key areas.

However, he said the language has been more positive, particularly from the UK side, and there had been movement on both sides prompting optimism that a deal would be finalised by the end of this month.

Despite the positive momentum, Ruparel advised delegates to look at what a no deal might mean for the travel sector, adding a lot will depend on context and whether it is acrimonious or more consensual.

He said a separate aviation deal was likely to be agreed in the event of a no deal, but added: “If we see a no deal which is acrimonious it’s hard to see the UK and the EU agree to these sort of separate deals [like on aviation] and take a pragmatic approach.

“It could be a protracted argument. It’s not likely, but we cannot discount that. We could see some unilateral measures taken on both sides to ease issues, particularly in aviation.”

Ruparel said challenges raised by Brexit and Covid-19 were likely to collide at the end of the year related to changes in supply chains and border protocols.

He said the ongoing pandemic could see difficulties in people moving across borders and this would coincide with a new immigration regime being introduced in the UK.

Although the assessment of the worst case scenario “sounded pretty bleak”, Ruparel pointed to opportunities linked to new trade deals allowing workers to travel between the UK and other countries outside of the EU.

“It’s important for businesses to be prepared for the end of the year and how that works in the new context of Covid-19,” he said.