John’s Journal; Happy days will be here again
John Burke dismisses the impact of Brexit on travel
Holidays are all about getting away from it all, so it is only while lying on the beach with an airmail edition of the national dailies that we are aware of politics.
As this season ends, however, it might cross the minds of sun-seekers from the British Isles that this could just be their very last chance to visit the Continent! Rumours are being spread, partly by the biased BBC, that if there is no commercial agreement between London and Brussels to replace what currently allows access to a common market, we will be marooned next April Fool’s Day.
Remember, however, that in the run-up to the millennium – what nerds were calling Y2K instead of AD 2000 – everyone on this planet was told that things would grind to a halt because computers could not handle the new date. The six-digit programs would run only up to New Year’s Eve as 311299 because 010100 would take us back to the era of Queen Victoria and President McKinley. They just missed the advent of flying-machines, but the second 010100 would surely see all aircraft grounded, credit cards rejected and the breakdown of gas, water, telephone and electricity, plunging Earth into a new Dark Age.
Yet here we still are in computerised civilization as we knew it last century. Going back further, England/Britain lost most of its Continental markets four times in history. This was during the Reformation, the Napoleonic era, 1914-18 and the Second World War, but each disruption proved partial and temporary, besides leading to a shift towards the wider world for business along with the merchants to get it.
Similarly in consumer travel, there are lands overseas that were less visited half a century ago when the range of aircraft was limited. Last year saw Britons make 3.4 million visits to the USA and a million each to Dubai. India and Thailand. Even around the Mediterranean are alternative – and less expensive – destinations crying out for visitors to provide employment and foreign exchange: Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Morocco and Tunisia.
Admittedly, the 20 million to the rest of the world pales in comparison with 44 million to the European Union, but that travel is worth £33 billion, including a vital economic multiplier in Malta where one business is six depends on Britons. Their top destination, Spain, risks losing 17 million visits while suffering 16% unemployment.
Greece, basically bankrupt, cannot afford to lose nearly £1¼ billion from the British, their leading guests.
Is it likely that Brussels will risk further unrest in Mediterranean member-states that have been impoverished by sharing the euro with northern Europe? Further evidence that neither side can do without the other comes from David Ashton who runs the train booking and comparison platform, Loco 2. Writing in Business Travel News of 27 August, he declares, “Any fuss about Brexit leading to disrupted travel for Britons is just fearmongering designed to generate clicks”.
Ashton thinks that trains will still run. Eurostar has 70% of the traffic between London and Paris or Brussels, carrying an annual 10 milion passengers. He sees no reason for EU visas, politely omitting the obvious threat of retaliation. The only bugbear would be the €7 that the EU will impose on outsiders as an entry-tax in 2020, but then Turkey, Egypt and Australia charge more.
Ashton does not envisage dearer holidays, noting that the pound has held up against the single currency. Actually, it was in the first decade of this century, long before Brexit, that it nearly halved to reach €1.09 in 2009, and the current rate is slightly above that.
I also agree with Ashton about travel insurance staying much the same. He mentions the European Health Insurance Card as a free and useful back-up, and as the EU has a reciprocal agreement on this with Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein in the wider European Economic Area, the same should easily be negotiated for an external Britain
As for roaming charges, the mobile services have eschewed returning to closed, national networks. Vittorio Cola, the Italian head of Vodafone, said it would “not be very logical” to penalised Britons travelling in Europe.
Ashton does not cover aviation, but I did early research after Carolyn McCall (since gone from easyJet) echoed the dire warnings of Rynair’s Michael O’Leary – a citizen of Ireland. Yet because European skies are criss-crossed by various pan-European and intercontinental agreements, some involving American carriers, planes will not be grounded.
The EU got its open sky in 1992, but nothing stopped flights into Switzerland, although Berne did not sign an aviation treaty for seven years. Besides, airports such as Zurich, Oslo, Istanbul and Reykjavik are all outside the EU as Gibraltar will be. Furthermore, British Airways and Spanish airlines are now integrated in IAG whose legal and operational headquarters are in Madrid and London respectively.
A longstanding anomaly is that Scandinavian Airlines System was established one decade before the 1957 Treaty of Rome by the governments of Denmark and Sweden (which avoid the euro) and Norway which is totally outside the European Union. The airline of Greenland, which quit the EU, has flights to Copenhagen and also to Rejkavik which itself is linked with EU capitals by Icelandair and SAS.
Brussels permits bizarre latitude. North American and West Indian airlines fly to Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean as well as French Guiana in Latin America which are legally regarded as ‘Europe’ just like the Canaries and Madeira!
If all these airlines as well as diverse and distant territories can be accomodated because of historical precedent or colonial ties, then Britain’s poorly qualified air minister, Baroness Sugg, should insist on equal treatment.
Besides, there would be an outcry from Continental (and intercontinental) travellers if aircraft were grounded and ships arrested. EU citizens make an annual 22 millon visits to Britain for business or pleasure, and £341 billion of EU goods and services cross the North Sea and English Channel.
As for readers in the Emerald Isle, which gets an annual 3 ½ million visits from across the water, they should remind O’Leary that the old Free State virtually boycotted British goods only to have its own exports penalised. Since both sides suffered, trade resumed in 1938 following the Anglo-Irish coal-cattle pact.
I wish you all Bon voyage and gute Reise in 2019, or in Gaelic Go n-eírí an bόthar leit (may the road be successful).