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Brexit: Tourism

Volume 787: debated on Monday 20 November 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact that the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union Open Skies Agreement would have on the United Kingdom’s tourism industry.

My Lords, the Government are considering carefully all the potential implications arising from the UK’s exit from the EU. We are aiming to negotiate the best possible relationship between the UK and the EU in the field of aviation and matters impacting on tourism. The importance of air services to the UK tourist economy is recognised across government, and we will continue to work closely with the aviation and tourism industries to ensure their continued success.

My Lords, the airport operators’ association, ABTA, and all the major United States airlines have said it is essential to have new deals in place by spring of next year. Given the speed of the Brexit negotiations, that is perhaps a bit optimistic, so what are the Government doing to mitigate the devastating impact that any disruption or interruption to flights is likely to have on tourism, which contributes £127 billion to the UK economy and provides employment for 3 million people?

My Lords, the UK already has 111 bilateral agreements on air services with other countries, and they of course will continue after we leave the EU. However, we understand the need for early reassurance on flights to the EU, and that will be a consideration when we negotiate our future relationship. Airline representatives made it clear last month to the Transport Select Committee that they would continue to sell tickets, and that they share our confidence that we will get a good agreement in place after Brexit. We meet regularly with the airlines at both official and ministerial level to discuss the options for the future aviation relationship.

My Lords, what will happen to the operational regulation of civil aviation at Brexit? Will that revert to the Civil Aviation Authority?

The CAA already operates the vast majority of EU regulations in the UK and will continue to do so after exit.

My Lords, will the Minister guarantee to the House that there will be no disruption in air traffic as a result of Brexit in March 2019?

My Lords, the Government recognise the need for UK air traffic management arrangements to remain interoperable with the rest of Europe. Safe and efficient air traffic management is a priority for us. We are considering all the potential implications for the UK and working with NATS to ensure that there is no disruption.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that flights across the Atlantic are in fact covered by an agreement between the European Union and the United States? What contacts have the British Government had with the United States Government about the situation if there were not an agreement with the EU?

I can confirm that flights between the US and the EU are currently covered under an EU/US air transport arrangement. This is of course a really important market for us, with over 90 million passengers between the UK and the US in 2016. I confirm that my officials are having informal discussions with the US on air services, and we have made positive progress. Our aim is to maintain the liberal market access arrangements available under the current agreement.

My Lords, my noble friend is of course much younger than not only me but most Members of the House. Could she tell the House whether it was possible before 1972 to fly across the Channel? I seem to remember doing so. It was rather easier than it is now.

I can confirm that yes, it was indeed possible to fly across the Channel, and we look forward to continuing to do so.

No guarantees were given to my noble friend Lord Adonis in response to his question, and I am sure that note has been taken of that fact. In the light of the Answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, and of the potential adverse impact on tourism, will the Government at least do what the aviation industry wants and give a commitment now to deal with aviation separately and in advance of the main negotiations with the EU on Brexit since there is no automatic WTO fallback for the governance of international aviation rights if we do not reach agreement on new air service agreements following our withdrawal from the EU? Will the Minister, having failed to give the guarantees sought by my noble friend Lord Adonis, at least give a commitment on behalf of the Government to deal with aviation separately and in advance of the main negotiations?

I am afraid I am not able to give that commitment to the noble Lord today. How sectors are discussed will of course be a matter for the negotiations, but of course we recognise that traditionally aviation agreements have been negotiated separately. For our part, we are ready to move on with the negotiations.

My Lords, if it is not possible to give that commitment now, is it possible to give an idea of a timeline as to when that commitment can be made, when the aim might become a reality?

As I said previously, we are ready to move on with these negotiations and hope to do so shortly.

My Lords, longer queues at airports are likely to be yet another exciting bonus of Brexit. What plans do the Government have to deal with the likely increase in queueing at the airports?

My Lords, we are of course mindful of this possibility and are planning for the border to maintain security and flow at all ports of entry and exit. The Department for Transport is working closely with the Home Office to minimise delays after exit.

My Lords, is it not possible that under Brexit, Britain will retain its open skies policy and the EU will fall back into its protectionist mode, a situation which existed when I was Minister for Aviation—to the great benefit, as it happened, of the British aviation industry?

My Lords, it is of course in the common interests of the UK and the EU that we maintain access to the open, liberal arrangement for aviation that we currently have, and we are confident that we will achieve a mutually beneficial agreement.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has not given the guarantee that my noble friend Lord Adonis asked for. Can she tell us what proportion of flights in or out of the United Kingdom are to Europe—or, in the light of her answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, what proportion are to or from the United States, and therefore how many are at risk because the Government cannot give that guarantee?

I have already given the figure of 90 million passengers between the UK and the US, and of course we have our 111 bilateral arrangements, which I have spoken about before. On the 17 countries with which we currently have a relationship through being part of the European Union, we are already having discussions with them to agree a future bilateral arrangement. On the percentage of flights between the EU and the UK, I will have to get back to the noble Lord in writing.