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Brexit: British Airlines

Volume 796: debated on Tuesday 5 March 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of any restrictions that could be placed on British airlines as a result of the European Commission’s proposed measures to ensure basic air connectivity between the United Kingdom and the European Union in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare my interest as a pilot.

My Lords, last week the European Union provisionally agreed a regulation giving UK airlines the right to fly to the EU. The UK will reciprocate and provide, as a minimum, equivalent rights to airlines from European states. Taken together, these measures will ensure that flights will continue in a no-deal scenario. The department will continue to work with stakeholders across the aviation industry as we approach exit day. Leaving the EU with a deal remains the Government’s top priority.

While I am reassured by my noble friend’s reply, I am sure she will understand that there remain a number of anxieties, particularly among those who are planning to travel around Easter and afterwards, and also those in the boardrooms of a number of internationally operating airlines who need some certainty in their planning and structure. Could she make sure that these proposals are well advertised? I am also concerned about the possible effects of a no-deal scenario on non-EU international connectivity. Could she address that as well?

I reassure my noble friend that we are speaking to airlines regularly and keeping them updated on the progress of the regulations. Of course, they are following them in detail. There will be no effect on non-EU international travel; we have 111 bilateral agreements with third countries and those will continue. We are doing what we can to mitigate any disruption that we might foresee. We do not expect there to be much disruption, assuming that the regulations pass as we expect. There may be some issues at EU airports given some changes to passport checks, but we are working very closely with those airports to ensure that we minimise disruption.

My Lords, is it not the case that this is only a 12-month deal and it will cover only the routes that currently exist? It means that British airlines will not be able to develop new routes during that period.

There was in the original regulation a proposal for a fixed cap at 2018 levels. I am pleased to say that that is no longer the case, so there is no restriction on growth. The noble Lord is quite right that the regulation is only temporary. Overall, we continue to believe that liberal reciprocal market access is in the best interests of the EU and the UK. Should we leave without a deal, we will move swiftly to propose negotiations on that basis.

My Lords, BA, along with Iberia, is part of the International Airlines Group—IAG. The head office of that company is in Madrid. Consequently, whatever restrictions might arise should not apply to British Airways.

IAG has a very complex ownership structure, as do many airlines. This is truly an international industry. Its EU airlines will need to satisfy the EU requirements, but they have six months to do so. These EU regulations will not have any effect on BA, which is a UK airline with a UK operating licence. It will need to meet our requirements and it does so.

My Lords, the Government have devoted a lot of taxpayers’ money to try to avoid major lorry queues around Dover. East Midlands Airport is the aviation equivalent of Dover: it is our major freight airport. The infrastructure around that airport will not be able to cope with long queues in the event of a no-deal Brexit. What assessment have the Government made of the problem in that area? What measures are they planning to put in place to avoid lorry queues and congestion around East Midlands Airport?

The noble Baroness is right to point out the importance of East Midlands Airport for our freight capacity. In the event of no deal, the Government are designing customs arrangements in a way that ensures that goods can continue to flow. As we have made clear, we will not compromise security on the border, but keeping goods flowing is of vital importance. We are working very closely with East Midlands Airport to minimise disruption.

My Lords, last night in the Statement on Eurotunnel, the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, who is in his place, said that the agreement to pay Eurotunnel £33 million,

“will help to deliver an unhindered supply of vital medicines and medical devices under any Brexit scenario”.—[Official Report, 4/3/19; col. 503.]

Would it not have been better value for money to send this medicine by air freight, rather than paying Eurotunnel £33 million for nothing?

I was wondering how that would come back to air freight. The noble Lord is right that we are considering air freight as part of our plans to ensure that we have vital medicines. Some medicines with very short half-lives will need to be carried by air freight and the Department of Health is working to ensure that that happens. The decision on the £33 million was made to guarantee that we will be able to carry essential medicines in the event of no deal.

For general aviation pilots, the UK will remain a signatory to the Convention on International Civil Aviation after EU exit. UK-registered aircraft will still be entitled to fly under the rights established by it. EASA licences, which many pilots hold, will continue to be recognised by the CAA.

Can the Minister update the House on deals for flights outside the EU? It is very helpful to hear her update on flights to Europe, but I understand that flights to the US and Canada are governed by deals connected with our membership of the EU, so can she update us on any progress on replacing these important agreements?

As I said earlier, we have 111 bilateral air service agreements with third countries in our own right, and these will continue, but my noble friend is quite right: there are 17 third countries which we have an agreement with by virtue of our EU membership. The very able and hard-working air services negotiating team in the Department for Transport are making excellent progress on this. To date we have completed new bilateral agreements with the vast majority of these countries, which represent 98% of all passengers.

My Lords, further to my noble friend’s question about East Midlands Airport, can the Minister say what is happening regarding the potential clogging up of the M1, which is the only major way into East Midlands Airport? What specific plans are in place to ensure that the M1 does not clog up?

My Lords, we are not expecting the M1 to clog up, but, as I have said, we are working very carefully with East Midlands Airport to ensure the smooth flowing of cargo and that this very important airport continues to function regardless of the outcome of the negotiations.