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