How Brexit will probably affect the MICE world

John Fisher, MD of Fisher Moy International Limited, warns of potential chaos after Brexit (the UK’s exit from the EU)
There were some recent passport statistics in the British media which made for interesting reading. About 10 per cent of the UK population has recent Irish ancestry to the extent that they are eligible to apply for an Irish passport, me included. Ireland is, of course, in the EU.

About 80,000 UK residents so far have applied for Irish passports this year which represents an increase of about 50 per cent on the previous year. Of course, Ireland is a wonderful destination. It may be that Tourism Ireland has done such an excellent job in promoting all things Irish that UK nationals now feel compelled to apply for citizenship.

However, I suspect that the benefit of being able to travel freely in the EU, post-Brexit, with an Irish passport is probably why the applications have increased.

This begs the question for event organisers globally regarding what to do about the UK as a destination in 2019 which will be the year of Brexit - or not!

Let’s make a few things clear for our event colleagues around the world as to what is likely to happen:
• Even though Parliament is marginally in favour of remaining in the EU, the British voter marginally chose to exit by 52% to 48% in the referendum 2 years ago
• Theresa May, Prime Minister, presides over a mandate to administrate the departure by March 29th, 2019, albeit reluctantly and against her personal views
• There is not going to be another referendum on the issue
• There is not going to be a change of Government
• There might be a change of Prime Minister, though
• But there is going to be a bit of a mess as neither the UK policy-makers nor the EU negotiators can agree on how best to accomplish this task
• The UK Government needs about 320 positive votes from Parliament in December to get the Withdrawal Agreement approved. At the moment they can only count on say 260
• For sure, it will be a done deal, either way, by December, leaving public servants to pick up the pieces and somehow amend over 3,000 laws to make it possible by the end of March, 201 - or to drop the whole Brexit idea.

Visitors to the UK
For any visitors outside the EU, there will be no change. For delegates arriving from the EU there is likely to be chaos during April to June 2019 as the UK Border Agency either makes up the rules as it goes along or simply does nothing.

Incoming visitors will probably not be covered by the existing EHIC rules on reciprocal health insurance, so private health insurance will be advisable.

Production companies wishing to import technical equipment for shows and presentations would need to complete old-style carnets and ensure that whatever is brought into the UK is taken out again at the end of the event. This , of course, would require additional fees.

Delegates arriving from the EU but with non-EU citizenship, such as those with African or Chinese documents, may be subject to extensive checks, where there are none at present.

The VAT rules may or may not be applied as per TOMS (Tour Operators’ Margin Scheme) for professional organisers. So be prepared to have to pay more VAT at some stage.

Travelling out of the UK
Nothing changes for groups going beyond the EU. But travellers to the EU from the UK can expect confusion and frustration on entry as EU countries will all apply their own version of their Brexit rules in the absence of any single, authoritative body which is going to decide these things.

Ironically, any UK-based EU nationals travelling to the EU will find things trouble-free.

The GB Pound will slide in value against the Euro, which means the budget for your EU event, if designated in Pounds, will be poorer value for money.

Airlines may raise their prices ex-UK if demand falls and potential business travellers adopt a wait-and-see attitude.

Forget TOMS and VAT as no-one will know what rules to apply.

EU trade exhibition attendance from UK delegates will fall while UK passport-holders assess whether it is worth trying to get into any EU country, while the administrators are still attempting to sort things out.

Good news for visa-procurement agencies though - but every scarce commodity has its (higher) price.

Hospitality staff
There is no doubt that the UK hospitality industry will be desperately short of non-UK staff in hotels and venues, simply because recruitment agencies will have no-one to send. There are simply not enough 18-25-year-old British youngsters to take up the slack.

And, anyway, the UK Chancellor’s recent Autumn Budget revealed that growth will be very modest over the next 5 years, certainly less than 2% in any given year, which means that the leisure, dining and retail sectors in the UK will contract, along with their hospitality and service-based workforces.

Of course, it could all be fine, with all the visa rules relaxed, no-one charging anyone any fees, VAT waived and it business as usual.

And, as we say in the UK - ‘pigs may fly’.

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