EU Referendum: How would a Brexit affect travel?

The UK in a Changing Europe provides independent impartial information, from leading academics, on the UK’s relations with the EU.

This article is written by them to help people understand the potential different impacts of a remain or leave vote.

The views do not necessarily represent those of ITV News


  • Strengths

Being a member of the EU has made travel easier.

EU nationals do not have to get visas to travel to other EU countries and flights have become much cheaper because of ‘low cost’ airlines.

Under EU law consumers now enjoy protection if their flight is cancelled or delayed. They also enjoy financial protection for package holidays, for example, if the travel company fails or if the consumer wants to cancel the holiday.

Not only do Brits travel more often to Europe than before, the British tourism industry has also benefited from this – the direct contribution of travel and tourism to the UK economy was about £60 billion (3.5% of total GDP) in 2014. Tourism has also supported nearly 2 million jobs (5.7%) in the UK.

And according to the Office of National Statistics, tourism from EU states to the UK is more than double that from the rest of the world. Using your mobile phone abroad has become cheaper and from June 2017 there will be no difference in the cost of using your phone at home or in other EU states.

When in another EU member state, EU law allows EU travellers non-discriminatory access to services such as museums, galleries and theatres so EU travellers enjoy the same price of entry as locals.

The Services Directive also requires shops, hotels, restaurants and the like not to discriminate against service recipients (i.e. EU tourists). And if Brits injure themselves on holiday, they get emergency health care for free with the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

  • Weaknesses

The environment has been hit– nearly 70% of passengers come to the UK by plane. Tourism also places a burden on UK infrastructure, such as roads and the UK’s heritage infrastructure such as National Trust properties.

As the UK is outside the Schengen zone, but non-EU nationals only need a single visa to travel as tourists within the Schengen zone and need an additional visa to visit the UK, there is a risk that non-EU tourists do not visit the UK.

This could be a potential loss to the UK tourism industry. Some argue that freer travel means that it may be easier for those who want to harm the UK to enter as tourists.

Under EU law, all EU nationals have the right to come to the UK for up to three months without having to work or prove that they have enough money to live on – this can potentially cause several problems: some may overstay and could claim benefits or enter the black economy.

Free movement also contributes to the burden on health services – it is estimated that it costs the NHS £260 million per year to care for visitors and non-permanent residents from the European Economic Area (EEA).

  • Opportunities

The tourist industry is expected to expand with opportunities for the UK economy to grow.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), tourism is forecast to rise by 3.7% in 2015, and to rise by 3.2% pa, from 2015-2025, to £88.2bn (3.7% of total GDP) in 2025.

However, these figures assume continued EU membership.

Travel and tourism is also a way of helping to ensure that visitors understand Britain and its culture.

If Britain were to leave the EU and does not enter a special arrangement with the EU, the UK will be free to enter into negotiations with other states which may include free movement.

As such, the danger of other EU nationals coming over here without jobs or sufficient private resources would be eliminated.

  • Threats

If the UK leaves the EU, the tourism industry may be affected. There is the possibility that fewer EU nationals will come to the UK depending on the nature of the post-Brexit deal. However, US and Asian tourist figures are not expected to drop.

Similarly, Brits may find it harder to travel to other EU countries. There may be longer delays at the Channel as the French government may not protect carriers from being boarded by irregular migrants. This may lead to lengthier checks either in the UK or by ferry operators.

Security threats and increased migration from non-EU states may result in the UK further reinforcing its borders. If no deal is reached, UK nationals may need visas to travel to EU countries, and EU nationals may require visas to come to the UK.

It may also become more expensive, as low cost airlines might not be granted the same access to landing rights at EU airports, the principle of non-discrimination and reduced roaming costs may not apply to British citizens and Brits may have to pay for emergency healthcare in other EU countries.