Whilst everyone is probably tired of discussions around Brexit, on whether the UK will exit with or without a deal and when that might happen, I have been asked to write about the impact the UK leaving without a deal is likely to have on travel to an EU country such as Cyprus. Given that close to 30% of airline passengers visiting Cyprus are travelling from or to the UK, the implications of a no-deal Brexit is something we have to assess continuously, as although we cannot influence the outcome of political deliberations we need to be prepared for the fallout. Fortunately, aviation has been one of the best treated sectors, as regards contingencies for a no-deal Brexit, as you will see if you read on.
Ten days before the original Brexit deadline of 29 March 2019, the EU formally approved no-deal contingencies for air connectivity and security, which the UK has already reciprocated, so we now have the certainty that air transport will largely be shielded from severe disruption risks in case the no-deal scenario becomes a reality. Based on the detailed briefing we received from ACI Europe (Airports Council International) in March 2019, the following will apply:
1. Airlines will be allowed to keep flying between the UK and the EU without any restrictions on capacity.
2. Airlines will be allowed to keep code-sharing with EU airlines without any restrictions on such services.
3. UK airlines will only be allowed to provide 5th freedom (This is the right to fly between two foreign countries on a flight originating or ending in one's own country) air cargo services between the EU and non-EU countries for a maximum of 5 months and will not be authorized to increase frequencies during that period.
4. Airlines holding a license issued by an EU27 State will be given 6 months to comply with EU ownership & control rules - subject to these airlines presenting to the competent EU27 State authorities their plan on how to comply with such rules within 2 weeks from the UK’s exit from the EU. This clause potentially applies to Iberia, Vueling, EasyJet Switzerland/Austria and Ryanair.
With respect to aviation security at airports the following will apply:
These positive outcomes were not a given, as the European Commission (EC) had initially proposed a more restrictive regime as regards the access of UK airlines to the EU27 market. A more liberal approach was finally adopted taking into account the negative consequences that additional restrictions would have entailed for consumers and the European economy.
From its inception in 1985, the UK opted out of the Schengen acquis on free movement of people and has remained outside the system even after this became EU law. The fact that the UK does not participate in the Schengen area means that EU and UK nationals (like third-country nationals) have to proceed through border control at entry/exit of this space and the UK territory and be subject to the reinforced controls recently put in place.
What is key to Brexit and the situation of EU and UK nationals after October 2019 (or the date on which Brexit takes place) is that they will both be considered as third-country nationals. This means that EU nationals will be subject to British border and immigration law on entering and residing in the UK and that UK nationals entering and seeking to reside in the EU will be subject to EU rules on third-country nationals supplemented (in so far as the system is not yet complete) by the national laws of the relevant country.
If the UK exits the EU without a specific agreement on border controls, the situation will be as follows:
1. British nationals seeking to enter the EU27 (though in reality this is the EU26, as the Common Travel Area with Ireland means that there is no border control on persons between the UK and Ireland) will need to fulfil the Schengen Border Code requirements (entry for three months out of every six) and for longer stays the EU immigration acquis will apply, e.g., the Blue Card Directive, the Student and Researcher Directive, the Family Reunification Directive, etc.
2. EU26 nationals (excluding Irish nationals as explained above) seeking to enter the UK will need to fulfil the conditions of the immigration rules; they will no longer enjoy a right to enter, against which the UK authorities are required to justify refusal; instead they will be required to justify the purpose of their entry, e.g., visit less than six months, work-with a prior authorisation to work under British law, family reunification-with a prior authorisation under British law, etc.;
For UK nationals seeking to enter EU or EEA (including Switzerland) states, the situation will vary across Member States. The British and Irish Governments have signed a deal on 8 May to guarantee that rights offered by the Common Travel Area (CTA) will continue after the United Kingdom quits the European Union. All the EU and EEA states (including Switzerland) participating in the Schengen acquis (which means all except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania) comply with the Schengen Borders Code. While Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania are not formally part of the Schengen areas of border control-free travel for persons yet, they voluntarily apply the Schengen acquis on border control regarding third-country nationals.
Assuming that Britain is not added to the Schengen visa black-list, UK citizens will not be required to obtain a visa before entry. When ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) is operational (not expected until 2021), British citizens, like other third-country nationals, would be subject to it. British citizens will have to justify the reason for their entry into an EU Schengen state and then will have a total of 90 out of every 180 days to travel within the area without a visa. If they do not leave at the end of their permitted stay, they will become overstayers subject to the Return Directive (and expulsion). Once the Entry/Exit System (EES) is in place in the EU, UK nationals will also have their entry, exit and refusal of entry information, as third-country nationals crossing the external borders of the Schengen area, registered.
All the above are written from the angle of a no-deal Brexit and even in this case we can see that British holidaymakers can pretty much continue with their travel plans as before. The ability for flights to continue without disruption has been safeguarded, no additional security checks will be imposed and people wishing to travel for 90 days or less to the EU will not require a visa. If the UK leaves the EU based on the agreement reached between the EU and the UK Prime Minister, then there will be a transition period until the end of 2020, during which what applies today will mostly stay the same.
Sources: ACI Europe information and BBC news articles. All pictures are of Larnaca International Airport