While British Prime Minister Theresa May has recently squeaked by a vote of no-confidence in Parliament, her Brexit plans essentially have not. Thus far, there is still no Brexit deal in place, which is to say that the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU have not been determined.
Nearby countries and key trading partners, including France, are therefore readying themselves and their borders for the potential outcome of a hard Brexit, as a no-deal scenario has come to be called. If the British government can’t scrape an official roadmap together prior to that, this hard Brexit is expected to be disorderly for Great Britain and any EU member state that has not taken it upon itself to prepare in earnest.
Under the current circumstances, the UK exits on March 29 of this year, at 11pm, because the legally mandated deadline to do so has finally come to pass. That specific date owes to the fact that Theresa May triggered this departure process two years ago come the end of March by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, ostensibly in honor of the UK people’s vote to leave. Two years was the amount of time Article 50 allotted Great Britain to orchestrate their exit.
As a potentially interested traveler to Europe, you should care. First off, it makes for a unique travel opportunity to the UK given the slide in value the currency, the British pound, has experienced over the last couple of years. Second, when (dare we say, if?) Brexit does take place, crossing international borders between the UK and countries like France may prove more trying. Third, while the UK remains a relatively stable group of countries, Brexit may disrupt the business community there.
Brexit has been a thing since before the June 23, 2016 referendum with which it was officially introduced. A near 52% of the people voted in favor of Great Britain leaving the EU.
In the year prior, the British pound — as measured against the US dollar — had already begun its downward trajectory. It recovered a bit leading up to the vote, but in the wake of that vote it took a precipitous nosedive.
Another drop occurred later in 2016. The currency proceeded to hit its lowest point in decades at the start of 2017 before it began a steady climb back up during the rest of the year and into 2018. That trend then reversed itself in late 2018 and it once again began falling. We now find ourselves here at the beginning of a new year, the British pound against the US dollar near that 2017 low following three plus years of volatility, the Brexit deadline looming.
This hasn’t been awesome for anyone whose home currency is the British pound (especially British expats), but if your home currency is the US dollar, your purchasing power in the UK has increased. For instance, the same dinner or hotel room will cost you less than it would have before, as it now takes you fewer dollars to buy the same number of pounds sterling in order to purchase those goods and services you want while traveling.
Meanwhile, inflation has not been a real issue yet, as it can be when a currency weakens against others. Core inflation registered a tame 1.9% for the month of December, 2018, while food inflation came in under 1% for last month. That’s good news if you’ll be going out for a couple of meals on your next trip to London, or buying and bringing groceries back to your Airbnb to prepare yourself something tasty. Indeed, the UK’s Office for National Statistics observed that the variation in price changes for the “restaurants and hotels” category was “low”.
Since we’re on the topic of money, let’s discuss the dark side of Brexit’s impact on local businesses. The kingdom’s companies may experience disruptions or friction in their supply chains with respect to whatever they import, including items from crude oil to clothing, especially if there is a hard Brexit.
This signifies that if the logistical, pricing, taxation, and other aspects of getting goods and services to the UK from the outside world haven’t been hashed out prior to Britain’s leaving the EU, a torrent of corresponding issues for domestic businesses and their customers could be unleashed. For instance, the UK, like so many countries across the world, imports crude and refined oil, which are used to make gasoline. If you plan to rent a car in Glasgow in order to tour greater Scotland and the Isles by vehicle, gassing up along the way may prove to be more difficult than otherwise, either because of possible supply shortages or because of potentially volatile pricing.
Again, none of the aspects of the UK’s separation from the EU have been officially sorted. That includes how goods will travel across international borders in this new-old world, what duties will be assessed, what delays there may be in processing orders, and so on.
From a documentation requirements standpoint, a no-deal Brexit will not materially impact holders of, say, a US passport. For those holding a full British Citizen passport, however, a hard Brexit on March 29, 2019 impacts you in the following way: you must make sure that your passport, and the passports of any dependents you have traveling with you, have at least 6 months left on them from the date of your arrival in the Schengen area of the EU. That is, ensure that none of those passports are set to expire within 6 months of your future planned visit following the Brexit date.
That’s how things stand now, of course. Following Brexit, who knows what new agreements the UK and EU will be struggling to reach, and what new issues will crop up. Additionally, there are many UK nationals living in EU countries, and vice-versa. There is very little guidance on how those individuals will be treated. On the France page of the official UK government site, the following is stated:
There will be no change to the rights and status of EU nationals living in the UK, nor UK nationals living in the EU, while the UK remains in the EU.
Hmmm. That’s great? Then what? It hasn’t been entirely sussed out. What we currently know is that if you are an EU citizen living in the UK, you will need to apply in order to remain in the UK following Brexit. Chances are, this arrangement is reciprocal — UK citizens may need to apply with the government of whatever EU country they are living in to be able to secure their place.
I should point out that there is nothing on the UK Gov page to confirm or deny that, though. With respect to the relationships the UK has with some countries, there is simply no agreement yet on how to proceed.
Practically-speaking, then, if UK and EU citizens have to move back to their countries of origin or travel more to deal with any fallouts from Brexit, then we can all expect longer lines at international borders and embassies, and more competition for seats on planes, trains, ferries, and all the rest. In other words, we can all look forward to the additional gumming up of travel in the form of things taking more time, being less available, and costing more, to name a few.
Indeed, one of those last points on travel seats is becoming a bit of a hot button issue, especially as airlines that were planning new routes or otherwise expanding their European services scramble to figure out what to do in the event of a hard Brexit. An international aviation watchdog is warning that flights could be cancelled as there appears to be language floating about that flight levels between the UK and EU are to be capped at 2018 levels if there’s no deal.
Of course, Europe-oriented airlines and travelers have been gearing up for more travel this year when compared with last year, not less, so that means that if caps are triggered by a no-deal Brexit, many will get the shaft. If you’ve already paid for that travel, that may not only leave you in the lurch, but also fighting for a refund and adding insult to injury. Flight insurance may be a sound way to go, but do your due diligence and read the fine print, of course.
It is unclear as to whether rail companies, or ship operators that ply the waters between countries like Ireland, France, and the UK, will be hit by any caps themselves.
If it has occurred to you that the best time to visit the UK is now, before Brexit brings about any further ugliness and the proverbial shit really hits the fan, I’d say you’ve got the right idea. As we get closer to the end of March, things will get dicier. Many believe it’s just a question of how messy it will all be, not whether it will be messy.
In the event of a hard Brexit, especially, the situation over there will provide for a bit of a crapshoot. Benefits and costs weighed together could make for a wash.
By the way, Scotland is amazing, as is Wales. I can’t recommend them highly enough. Just sayin’.