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BREXIT


WORDS MEGAN TATUM


Travel buyers are living with uncertainly about what Brexit will mean for them


I


T PROVED TO BE AN OPTIMISTIC CHOICE of lyrics by Donald Tusk. “Friends will be friends, right ’til the end,” the president of the European Council tweeted in late November, hours ahead of a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels to agree the UK’s withdrawal agreement. The political infighting that ensued, culminating in a vote of no


confidence that prime minister Theresa May survived by only 83 votes, certainly didn’t feel much like friendship. Ever since the UK voted to exit the European Union in


June 2016, relations between the UK and the EU, as well as between deeply divided factions within the UK itself, have seemed insurmountable. While politicians have engaged in this escalating row either side of the English Channel, businesses have been left trapped in a period of unnerving uncertainty. “It is currently absolutely impossible to know where this will


land,” sums up Tom Stone, corporate travel leader at Nina & Pinta. “The uncertainty that has existed for the past 30 months is the factor that is causing paralysis.” With the potential to affect everything from passports to


visas, aviation and immigration status, to name but a few, what is certain is that the impact on the business travel sector could be immense. As a joint paper by ABTA and Deloitte points out, 68 per cent of business visits from the UK are to EU countries, while 73 per cent of inbound business visitors are from the EU. “Tourism and travel trade between the UK and EU has been facilitated by the free movement of goods and services, investment and people across the EU,” it summed up. “A Brexit could jeopardise this free movement, and affect the flow of trade and travel.”


WATCH AND WAIT


Stuck without clarity on the nature of this impact, many travel buyers have been left, understandably, without any clear sense as to how they might prepare and mitigate it. “I’ve seen no evidence that companies are making significant plans for their travel programmes based on where we currently are – I’m sure this will change once it is concluded how, and if, the UK actually leaves the EU,” says Stone. “We have taken a view of watch and wait until now, when we


are being fed conflicting advice,” adds one travel buyer for a major marketing and branding agency, responsible for EMEA. In the shorter term, with Parliament still yet to give approval to the withdrawal document put forward by Theresa May, there are two potential scenarios that businesses face. The first is where Parliament gives its approval to the agreement and, as expected, the European Parliament then ratifies ahead


buyingbusinesstravel.com 2019 JANUARY/FEBRUARY 105


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