Freedom of movement is a key principle of the European Union (EU), as set out in Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU. Although the UK sits outside the borderless Schengen area, it has made business travel between Britain and its biggest export marketplace very simple. It has provided many small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) a gateway to the marketplaces of other EU nations in which they can grow their businesses.
A British exit from the EU would mean that Article 45, which also guarantees the right of a British person to work in any EU country, would cease to apply to the UK two years following the referendum, as per Article 50 of the Treaty. The UK would hope to negotiate a new agreement that maintains simplicity of movement, in addition to new bilateral trade agreements with the EU. However, there is no way of knowing at this point whether new accords would be more of less beneficial to businesses and travellers than the status quo.
It could be that very little changes and that business travel as we know it continues. That said, it is, of course, feasible that travel to and within the EU could be governed by far stricter regulations, making business travel arrangements more bureaucratic and complex. Not good news for procurement professionals, travel managers, bookers or travellers themselves.
In this scenario a TMC would play a central role in helping customers navigate changes to the travel process within the EU. Compliance, duty of care and cost control are, at any time, the pillars of managed travel. The uncertainly caused by a Brexit could make management of these areas increasingly complex.
It is, again, worth pointing out that predicting exactly what would happen post-Brexit is very difficult, if not impossible. Perhaps the managed travel community would not see or feel any change at all. But it is prudent to identify areas of potential impact.
Regulations governing the aviation sector and air passenger rights would also be at risk of change in the event of Brexit. More on that to come.