Comment: Brexit is no joke

Tom Jenkins, chief executive of Etoa, the European Tourism Association, says there is no clarity for travel firms facing Brexit.

Brexit was always going to be good for lawyers, civil servants and trade associations.

Now there are multiple jokes.

“What is the difference between the UK and the Mafia?”

“The Mafia makes you an offer you cannot refuse: the UK makes you an offer you cannot understand.”

“Having your cake and eating it” is now abbreviated to indicate ridiculous stupidity; “You’re having a cake!” is not a cry of endorsement.

The saddest joke – in a Roger Rabbit does pathos way – is the UK’s negotiating position. It is still taking shape 20 months after the Brexit vote.

Business always wants certainty, but it will put up with clarity. We have no clarity whatsoever.

The laws that have governed pan-European business transactions are now in doubt. The only certainty is that no predictions can be made.

Multiple questions

Etoa is fielding multiple questions.

Do our existing non-UK EU workers have protection?

Can we still hire people from inside the EU after 2019?

Will we have to use Tier 2 visa requests?

Will UK companies have to register for VAT when operating in Europe?

Will my UK company have the same legal protection in Europe after 2019 as it does at the moment?

Do I have to set up an EU subsidiary?

Will I still be able to post workers in Europe?

Will my tour guides have the same rights?

Will tour guides have any rights?

Will there be two sets of consumer regulations – an EU package travel regulation, and a UK package travel regulation?

Will the EU Health Insurance Card work?

Mad funk

The fact that none of these questions can be answered with a clear “yes” or “no” is an indication of the mad funk we are in.

The reaction of most business people so far is to assume all will be well.

The boys who brought you Brexit (and they are nearly all boys) are in control.

Nothing is going to happen; or at least nothing is going to happen to me.

Thus we are not so much in a Brexit Process as in a Phoney Brexit Process.

We may hear that insurance underwriting in the European Economic Area (EEA) is now channelled through a body called Lloyds of Brussels.

Universities are now desperate to know on what basis the 130,000 EU students might enrol in October 2019.

City workers are finding opportunities in Frankfurt and Paris where none existed before.

But in the travel industry there are few real signs of problems.

Maybe staff are more difficult to source, but then it has never been easy. Maybe having operating centres in Eastern Europe has become more alluring, but Anglophone offices in lower cost areas has been attracting investment for years.

Desperately unambitious

Trade associations seek to maintain a status quo. We strive to keep things as they were in June 2016 for as long as possible.

This is desperately unambitious.

Within the EU, the UK has driven the agenda for the single market in services, and has been, broadly, successful.

The UK is now bowing out (with all the grace of the Ant Hill Mob going over a cliff) leaving much work undone.

If you are a travel intermediary, the EU is not a single market: it is a grouping of nationally controlled silos.

It has the potential of becoming the largest, most exciting single market in the world.

It could offer explosive growth, but only in the right regulatory environment.

I am sure this will happen: one of the virtues of the EU is its constant drive for liberalisation; it will continue without the UK.

If Brexit happens I am not certain the UK will secure access to it.

Achieving access will involve lots of lawyers, civil servants and trade associations.