Baroness Doocey: Brexit will see our Open Skies closed

Posted On: 
21st November 2017

Liberal Democrat Tourism spokesperson Baroness Doocey writes following her question in the House of Lords on the impact of the UK’s exit from the EU Open Skies Agreement on the UK’s tourism industry. 

The Open Skies Agreement ensures we can fly to anywhere in Europe. Our tourism industry and our ability to go on holiday, is closely linked to this important treaty. 

Signed in 2007, this agreement allows any EU airline to fly anywhere in Europe. A second treaty governs travel between the EU and the US. Without a new bilateral agreement we could see the unthinkable happening: flights between the UK and one of our closest allies, the USA, grounded. 

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling recently stated that there is “no way flights will be grounded”. But in the current climate of claim and counter claim over Brexit, how can he make such a commitment when it appears the government hasn’t even started negotiating a new bilateral agreement? The EU also governs the UK’s access to Canada, Norway and Israel with many more UK only agreements now containing EU clauses, such as that with South Korea. These agreements will be void once we leave the EU. 

Flights between the UK and Europe will also be affected unless an agreement is reached with the EU quickly. The frequently repeated and appalling thought through Tory mantra that “no deal is better than a bad deal” will not even apply as the aviation industry falls outside the World Trade Organisation. 

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said this summer that flights for 2019 will be cancelled for months after the UK leaves the EU unless an agreement can be reached within the next year. As an Irish based company, Ryanair would be unable to operate flights between UK cities and EasyJet would be completely blocked from operating in Europe due to its majority British ownership. ABTA which represents travel agents and tour operators point out that their members sell holidays up to 18 months in advance so certainty about the ability of flights is crucial.

One possible solution would be to retain membership of the European Common Aviation Area, which spans the EU as well as some non-EU countries and provides unrestricted access. However, this would be subject to the European Court of Justice, something Theresa May has recklessly ruled out post-Brexit. 

The Minister attempted to assure the House that forming a new agreement was among the government’s top priorities but with an ever-rising list of priorities for the negotiations and currently no timetable as to when this new agreement may start to be discussed it seems unlikely that anything will be agreed by spring 2018 as the industry is demanding. The Chair of the Airport Operators Association, Ed Anderson, recently told its annual conference that the deadline for the aviation industry is “just four months away”. The clock is ticking.

‘No deal’ will put at risk the £52 billion the aviation industry contributes to UK GDP, but not only that it will severely threaten the UK’s tourism industry. As an island nation basic geography dictates that the majority of our visitors come via air transport. A recent report by Deloitte predicted that by 2025 tourism will contribute more than £257bn to the UK economy (just under 10% of GDP) and more than 3.8 million jobs. It is time the government makes reaching a new agreement its top priority and listens to the aviation industry when it says it cannot wait. No deal is not an option, the industry needs a deal now.  

Baroness Doocey is the Tourism Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords