Since the 2016 Brexit vote there have been plenty of headlines covering the chaos that could ensure, should the UK leave the European Union without a deal.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s office has since rubbished the story as has UK travel association ABTA but how seriously we should treat the claim is almost irrelevant.
The bigger problem is with three months to go until the UK leaves the EU, there is still no agreed plan. The two sides may have reached a deal but parliament has yet to rubber stamp it — and seems unlikely to do so. Despite the impasse, Prime Minister Theresa May is reluctant to think about a change in strategy.
With UK politics grinding to a halt the country is currently in limbo. The default endpoint of the Article 50 process — the mechanism by which the UK announced its departure from the EU — is leaving with no deal. If parliament doesn’t pass the UK-EU withdrawal agreement, then that is what will happen.
In the event of a “no-deal” Brexit both the UK and EU have said with regards to aviation they will —mostly — try to keep things as they are, in order to, as the European Commission put it avoid “abrupt interruptions of air traffic between the United Kingdom and European Union.”
This is great in theory but how it operates in practice is another thing, especially if panic sets in.
“Senior officials have explored the idea with at least one cabinet minister and discussed the impact that the advice could have on specific tour operators amid fears it might bankrupt them,” the Sunday Times story said.
Even without the challenges of Brexit, the travel and tourism industry should be expecting a difficult 2019.
At this stage, though Thomas Cook and TUI Group, look reasonably well set for 2019 with bookings up 3 percent at the former, and 5 percent at the latter for next summer. Though the share price of both companies fell following this weekend’s story as did that of Dart Group, owner of Jet2holidays, and EasyJet.
In order to try and play down the potential for holiday disruption, the Transport Secretary took the unusual stepping of writing an open letter to the aviation industry on Monday.
Grayling said both sides had expressed a “desire to ensure flights between the UK and EU continue in any scenario.”
“This department fully recognizes the importance of giving passengers and businesses confidence to book their holidays and business trips to and from the EU after Brexit.” he said.
Grayling wanted the letter to “provide some further reassurance and to be clear on our position” and said the Department for Transport would explore “what communications will be needed to provide that reassurance.”
At this stage positive words are all Grayling and others can offer but there’s only so many times you can say “it’ll be OK in the end” without agreeing to a plan.