No room for com­pla­cency with wait-and-see at­ti­tude on Brexit

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - OPINION -

The usual wait-and-see at­ti­tude of state of­fi­cials, hop­ing that mat­ters will re­solve them­selves, re­mains be­yond com­pre­hen­sion, and raises valid ques­tions about our abil­ity to be pre­pared for and deal with any out­come re­lated to Brexit.

There are three out­comes for which no one seems to have the right re­sponse to (or at least a con­tin­gency plan): a no-deal Brexit, with Con­ser­va­tive back­benchers throw­ing a span­ner in the works; a smooth Brexit; and, a no-Brexit, with the lat­ter two op­tions most favourable to Cyprus, as well as to fel­low-Med part­ners Malta, Greece, Italy and Spain. What seems to be of ut­most con­cern is how the highly prob­a­ble “no deal” Brexit will im­pact our tourism sec­tor that largely de­pends on British hol­i­day­mak­ers, as well as other trade, such as hal­loumi ex­ports and the sale of Cypriot fruit and veg in the UK mar­ket.

Cyprus has a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with Bri­tain, due to for­mer colo­nial ties, the link to the Sov­er­eign Base Ar­eas, warm weather, wide ac­cep­tance of the English lan­guage and wide­spread use of English Law, and a vast ma­jor­ity of Cypri­ots hav­ing stud­ied or lived in the UK, many with fam­ily and rel­a­tives still there.

That is why our hal­loumi is so pop­u­lar, Brits con­tinue to re­turn to our shores for their va­ca­tions and many pre­fer to stay on, well into re­tire­ment age.

What is wor­ry­ing, how­ever, is that as politi­cians and stake­hold­ers in the UK de­bate the mer­its and dis­ad­van­tages of a soft or a hard Brexit deal, and how this will af­fect any­thing from is­su­ing visas for travel to and from the EU to the avi­a­tion rights of air­lines, Cyprus seems to be un­con­cerned, or worse, re­mains in the dark of how to deal with the prob­lem.

Al­ready, the avi­a­tion in­dus­try is wor­ried that if PM May fails to win the sup­port of her Par­lia­ment af­ter Jan­uary 14, lead­ing to an ab­nor­mal exit from the Eu­ro­pean Union post-March 30, UK-based air­lines will be sub­jected to rad­i­cal changes, such as lim­i­ta­tion of flights per desti­na­tion coun­try to just two and los­ing the right to op­er­ate in­tra-EU flights, cre­at­ing con­nec­tiv­ity re­stric­tions and di­rectly im­pact­ing the car­ri­ers that trans­port nearly two in five hol­i­day­mak­ers to the is­land.

Al­though there will be a tran­si­tional pe­riod of about 12 months af­ter Brexit, visa is­sues will have to be re­con­sid­ered, de­spite the fact that Cyprus has the “priv­i­lege” of be­ing a for­mer colony, hence a mem­ber of the wa­tered-down Com­mon­wealth.

As Harry Kyril­lou of Cyprus-spe­cial­ist Planet Hol­i­days pointed out this week: “Niche mar­kets are as im­por­tant to Cyprus tourism as those of mass­mar­ket tourism. We know that Cyprus’ pop­u­lar­ity, es­pe­cially with the UK, is strong, but we can im­prove on this by di­ver­si­fy­ing the mes­sages and pro­vid­ing a year-round prod­uct that will ap­peal to all ages.”

The new Deputy Min­is­ter for Tourism should have packed his bags im­me­di­ately af­ter be­ing sworn in a few days ago and, ac­com­pa­nied by a team, should have been in Lon­don talk­ing to air­line com­pa­nies and tour op­er­a­tors to see how to deal with the Brexit de­ba­cle, to make sure that hol­i­day­mak­ers con­tinue to come to Cyprus and not choose ri­val des­ti­na­tions.

Are there con­tin­gency plans in place at the air­ports? Will the im­mi­gra­tion ser­vice be able to cope with the visa is­sue and long queues, that seem to be get­ting longer and longer ev­ery year?

Per­haps our New Year res­o­lu­tion should be – get to work!

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