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Grim Brexit Briefing from ETOA: Potential Problems in South East England from March 30, 2019

The following briefing is courtesy of ETOA and is of particular import to anyone planning to travel between the UK and EU, or vice versa, after 30th March 2019, particularly if traveling by rail or ferry.

Attention has been given to difficulties confronting freight traffic leaving the UK in the event of a “Hard Brexit”. The “Operation Brock” contingency plan, details of which emerged through a Freedom of Information request, is meant to address this. It involves lorry parks running tens of miles back along the eastbound section of the M20, with intra-regional and inbound traffic using a contra flow. Provisions are being put in place for emergency roadside lavatories and water distribution. The BBC covered this in the summer, you can reed the article here.

There has been much speculation on the implications for the industrial and agricultural sectors.

Brock will occur if there is no customs facilitation with the EU. It is something that the “Chequers Agreement” was drafted to avoid. This agreement in its current form is subject to strident criticism within the UK, and was rejected by the EU. Yet Chequers places the problem of goods traffic at the centre of negotiations. Solving this problem is clearly a government priority.

Of grave concern is the situation facing cross border passengers.

As at 12am on March 30th, the UK will cease to be a member of the EU; all its citizens cease to be citizens of the EU. For those travelling over the channel, the EU frontier will now lie in front of them. UK citizens will not be entitled to use the “EU” immigration lane. They will have to be subjected to the same scrutiny as other non-EU citizens. Under current rules, their passports will be inspected, they need to explain the purpose and state the length of their visit.

The estimated additional time this takes is 90 seconds per passenger. The channel ports handle approximately 20,000 UK outbound visitors per day. Thus, on paper, the wait after the first day will be 500 hours. This is clearly not feasible: a consequent decline in demand would dramatically cut this figure and humanitarian mitigation would be pushed through.

Unless controls on the EU side are abandoned, such is the cumulative scale of the process we can expect delays that render passenger traffic across the channel wholly impractical. If checks were introduced, it would be extremely optimistic to leave London by road and expect to arrive in Paris on the same day. In a “worst case scenario” – where a backlog of passengers is joined by a backlog of freight - you would be lucky to complete the journey in the same week.

None of the proposed UK positions on Brexit involve the free movement of people. Indeed the re-establishment of these controls is one of the main purposes of Brexit. “Taking back control of our borders” inevitably means ceding rights when crossing into other countries. A red line from the British Prime Minister underscores this situation.

The European nations involved see this as a problem wholly of the UK’s creation: the UK chose to scrap the mechanism whereby people crossed onto the Continent, and the consequences are for the UK to handle. There is no political will in Europe to increase spending to help the UK in this matter.

Ironically, the UK is similarly ill prepared to introduce its own controls. The home secretary, Sajid Javid, has reportedly conceded that checks on the UK side cannot be introduced for 30 months. There is no manpower capacity to do so. The UK (not being in the EU) is free to relax its borders. The European countries cannot. They have a binding obligation to impose border controls: the UK will be outside the EU.

As the UK is not able to introduce its own controls, an appeal could to be made to the EU to reciprocate. This agreement needs to take place before March. After Brexit the UK will lose what influence it has in Brussels, and any concession by the EU will be subject to individual countries veto. It is in everyone’s interest that no controls are enforced, and that this is agreed with all speed.

There is a related risk of creating needless alarm. Along with many others, we think a workable outcome is likely: we do not want to create a “Millennium Bug” out of Brexit. But operators ought to plan for the worst, and at the very least alert customers to the potential problems if they are organising cross-channel passage for at least a month after March 30th 2019.

Of concern, though not so grave, will be the plight of those arriving in the UK, and those exiting the UK by tunnel and air. We will brief you when we know more.

You might also like to view the relevant UK government notes on the implications for coach operators registered in the UK. These can be viewed here.

We will be holding a Brexit Seminar in London on October 29th. The exact time and venue is to be confirmed.

ETOA is a leading trade association for tour operators and suppliers in European destinations, from global brands to local independent businesses. Over 1000 members deliver more than €12bn of business annually within Europe and include tour and online operators, intermediaries and wholesalers; European tourist boards, hotels, attractions, technology companies and other tourism and business service providers.

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