Brexit, UK’s exit from the EU, will have significant impact on the budgets of the remaining 27. In broad terms, they will now have to find on average 4% more in contributions to make the books balance, because the UK is a net contributor.
Bureaucrats in Brussels are making light of the current discussions, saying they have much more pressing issues, such as the security of the Southern Mediterranean borders, sluggish economic growth and widespread youth unemployment.
It may be bravado or just a negotiating stance, but the truth is that while UK politicians have gone into febrile mode about whether we can agree a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ Brexit, the EU has already said goodbye and just wants the UK to pay its bill and leave, without making too much noise.
What will be the likely consequences, post-Brexit, for event planners, both those in the UK and those who are hoping to bring groups and events to the UK from outside the UK?
There is no doubt that, whatever deal is struck, the uncertainty will make clients less likely to choose the UK for international events with delegates of different nationalities in the next few years. Despite what politicians say, it is very likely that there will be additional administration for short term entry visas for existing EU citizens. As the UK will no longer be part of the EU, freedom of movement, as a right, will have disappeared.
If we then assume that the UK adopts the American view that nationals of specific Muslim states will be subject to more rigorous checks for reasons of ‘security’, then delegates from outside the UK will find it even harder to gain easy entry.
Confidence is a fickle thing. Once event organisers see that the rules are not clear and that perhaps no-one really knows if their global delegates are going to be allowed entry until they actually arrive in the UK, most sponsors will decide, for a period, to choose non-UK destinations until things settle down.
To cover the costs of this new approach to border control, there is likely to be some kind of payment to be extracted from all overseas visitors. Although, say, 10GBP is not very much in the entire scheme of things, it is £10 more than they have had to pay whilst the UK is in the EU. With, say, 1,000 incoming delegates to think about, it is not an insignificant sum to be added to an event budget.
Then there is the issue of UK organisers wishing to run UK groups to the EU. With much stricter border controls of non-EU citizens, it is quite clear that Brussels intends to make it as hard as possible for UK participants to travel within the EU, after Brexit. Otherwise, the existing EU members will question the benefit of paying to be in an organisation where one of its basic rules - freedom of movement - can be so easily ignored.
Thinking more domestically, the UK hospitality industry is a big employer of non-British EU nationals. As any visitor to the UK will testify, coffee bars, hotels and conference centres could not function without the excellent hospitality skills of East European EU nationals, for example. Even though UK politicians are quick to say that no-one will be deported if they are not British citizens, surely they will be, as the whole point of Brexit is to tighten the borders and reduce immigration levels.
Ironically, even UK organisers are thinking: Let’s NOT run our big events in the UK after 2019, because there will be no staff to do the hospitality. Let’s take our groups to places outside the UK where normal hotel and conference standards will apply.
Financially many commentators are predicting a downturn in the UK economy from 2019, at least for a few years, while markets and employers adjust to the new macro-economics of cutting itself off from the world’s biggest trading bloc. The hospitality industry will be one of the hardest-hit sectors.
Of course, it could all be just doom-saying and journalists building up a negative story - because bad news always sells more newspapers than good news. It may be that, post-Brexit, UK companies will be free to trade with the USA, Australia, Canada and the Far East without asking Brussels to provide an EU tariff list beforehand. But we can already run events, incentives and conferences around the world anyway. So being beyond the scope of EU trade rules will make no difference to event organisers.
There is a lot to commend the urge to free oneself from the shackles of any overbearing bureaucracy. History shows this in many forms. But when the price is to prevent individuals from visiting other nations or living where they please, something has gone very wrong.
There will be considerable confusion for planners of both UK incoming and UK outgoing events. The tragedy is that most professional event planners would be well-advised to steer well clear of the UK until the smoke clears and the rules are obvious. Unfortunately, my experience of foggy weather is that no-one can predict when it will end and which way the wind will blow next.
It could be a long time.