We want our future relationship with the European Union to be mutually beneficial. It is in the interests of both sides to maintain closely integrated aviation markets. However, it is the Government’s responsibility to prepare for all potential outcomes. The Government continue to work closely with the aviation sector to ensure the industry continues to be a major success story for the British economy.
What European destination would want to turn away planeloads of spending British tourists?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. Those with any concerns about 2019 just have to answer the question: how many hotels in Spain would be empty if the Spanish Government choose not to continue our aviation arrangements? That is why we will continue to make good progress towards satisfactory arrangements for the future.
In light of that answer, can the Secretary of State give an assurance that the Government will pursue an unchanged operating environment for the aviation sector in the Brexit negotiations with the EU?
I can give the hon. Lady that assurance. We believe it would benefit all the nations of Europe to continue the freedom of the aviation sector that we have seen over the past decade and more. That freedom particularly benefits regional economies and regional airports across the European Union, in this country and elsewhere. It would be foolish for anyone to try to stop that freedom.
The nine freedoms of the air guaranteed under the European common aviation area have enabled the growth of low-cost air travel, with average leisure fares to Europe falling by a third since 1993. We have already seen easyJet hedge against a no-deal scenario, but what assessment has the Secretary of State made of the implications of the UK falling back on the Chicago convention? What would that mean for the future of UK airlines, UK airports and affordable flights for UK consumers?
The hon. Lady needs to remember that aviation regulation operates at a global level, at a pan-European level—in which there is an “open skies” agreement—and at a national bilateral level. I have worked carefully with the airlines and all those involved, and I am certain that not only will aviation continue post-2019 but that everyone wants aviation to continue post-2019.
The individual case of easyJet relates to the question of cabotage within the European Union, which is clearly a matter for debate. It will be a negotiation for the whole sector because, although we have successful airlines such as easyJet operating flights within the rest of the European Union, we also have a large number of continental hauliers doing business within the United Kingdom. It is to everyone’s benefit that such liberalisation continues.
European competition law will no longer apply after Brexit, so how does the Secretary of State propose to allocate airport slots? By auction, or in some other way?
Of course, the big question is about the expansion of slots at Heathrow airport in particular, which will be a matter for the Government both to negotiate and agree. Right at the top of our priority list in allocating slots—and we have committed to this in what we have said about the proposed expansion of Heathrow airport—is that we reserve slots for regional connectivity. One of the key benefits of Heathrow airport expansion is the global connections it will provide to cities across the whole United Kingdom. Whatever approach we take, we need protection for those regional links.
The Secretary of State may be in denial, but the Chancellor has finally fessed up to the fact that, if there is no Brexit deal, it is conceivable that flights between the UK and the EU might be grounded. Is it not time for the Government to get their finger out and give the reassurances that the aviation sector so badly needs?
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, an experienced lawyer, did not read everything the Chancellor said. The Chancellor said that that was not going to happen and that, therefore, he will not spend a lot of money preparing for it. The actual reality is that we are doing a lot of preparatory work for all eventualities but, of course, the reason the Chancellor said what he said is that, as he says, that is not going to happen.