Brexit means…?

Chief executive of UKinbound Deirdre Wells outlines the inbound industry’s asks in the build up to the government’s Brexit negotiations.

With the industry and the political establishment firmly “back to school”, hopes that Brexit had been a fabrication of the Silly Season are sadly fading.
What has been made perfectly clear by our new prime minister is that Brexit means…er, Brexit. But the weeks since that momentous decision took place have provided little clues about what Brexit actually means.
Readers will recall that UKinbound members came out strongly in favour of Remain – with 82% saying that their businesses would be better served by the UK remaining in the EU. Since the referendum, we have been monitoring our businesses closely to see how they have been coping since the result.
They say that there is never an ill wind that doesn’t blow somebody good, and the fall in the pound has definitely provided a boost to the industry, particularly from Eurozone and US markets.
Open for business
We have been working proactively too with Visit Britain and London & Partners to deliver a strong message to our customers that the UK remains a welcoming destination. This month the UK welcomes the tourism businesses from across the globe to World Travel Market, providing an amazing opportunity for us to demonstrate that we are Open for Business.
However, what the long-term implications of Brexit will be for our industry remain unclear. It is simply too early to say whether this short-term increase will last. Notwithstanding the readjustment in an arguably inflated pound, all other trading conditions remain unchanged. Despite the views of much of the media or some sectors of the public that we are now “Out”, the fact remains that, of course, we haven’t left yet.
Along with partners across the tourism industry, UKinbound has been working hard over the past few months to ensure that the government is clear on our key “asks” for the negotiations. For our members, there are four clear priorities:
• Delivering a strong welcome message
• Retaining the Open Skies Agreement
• Retaining access to the single market
• Assurances for EU migrant workers
The principle of free movement has been so inextricably linked to access to the single market that there is no doubt that it will be one of the most contentious issue for the negotiations.
Our industry is built on the principle of making our destination as welcoming as possible – including at our borders – and the welcome in our hotels and attractions is often delivered by staff born elsewhere in the EU. 40% of UKinbound members’ employees are EU migrants and losing their valuable support would be a severe blow to our productivity.
Free movement reliance
Tourism is not alone in its reliance on free trade and free movement. It is hard to think of a UK service industry which is not. Given that it was the service sector, of which we are a proud part, which led the way out of the recent recession, the government needs to listen to the needs of this sector more than ever.
But I did not spend 20 years in government not to understand the real-politik of the EU Referendum. If anything was clear from the debate, it was that many felt that a Vote to Leave was a Vote to stop unfettered immigration.
There will inevitably be an expectation that a post-Brexit UK will be one which can impose greater restrictions on EU migration. De-coupling Free Movement from the single market may be an ideological step too far for the EU Commission and some of our EU neighbours.
But there is unease among many Members States about the status quo, and upcoming elections across the continent may start to reshape old ideals.
So, though there are many within the Conservative Party who are calling for a swift resolution to the current uncertainties – and many within the business world who want stability at any price – the inbound industry is in no rush to pull the article 50 trigger.
In a world of jet engines and high speed trains, this is one journey which we should take slowly.