The chief executive of the UK’s tourism trade body has been criticised for taking a neutral stance on Brexit after raising concerns about its consequences.
ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer was called out by a German politician during a debate at the European Parliament on the potential consequences of Brexit on tourism.
Mr Tanzer praised EU policies for making travel more affordable for British tourists and warned leaving the customs union could lead to “long delays” at the border in future.
But he said ABTA had been “very careful not to tell people how they should vote” in the run up to the referendum.
That drew a sharp response from German MEP Markus Pieper, a member of Angela Merkel’s CDU party, who said he should have done more to stop Brexit if he was concerned about its consequences.
Addressing Mr Tanzer, he said: “You said you behaved in a neutral fashion in the Brexit debate – I don’t understand that at all.
“Why didn’t you go on the offensive for Remain? You set out all the advantages and then you said that you took a neutral chance.
“So, I think there’s a certain degree of culpability for having now to try and save the situation.”
In reply, Mr Tanzer said ABTA had made clear that they “saw more downside than upside” from Brexit before the referendum.
But he added: “For a business, on an issue that is so emotional and so finely balanced, if you come out very strongly on one side – and this is the reality – you will upset half of your customers.
“That’s why I think at the time of the referendum businesses and trade associations were quite equivocal about this.”
The fiery exchange of views came at a meeting of the Parliament’s transport committee in Brussels, where industry experts reported a small slowdown in the numbers of UK tourists going to Europe since 2016.
They also voiced concerns that there would be a much bigger impact without continuing cooperation in aviation and called for UK citizens to retain their right to free emergency health care and mobile roaming.
However, MEPs heard how the fall in the value of the pound had delivered a recent boost to tourist numbers in the UK.
Italian socialist MEP Isabella de Monte said: “A reduction in purchasing power could, in actual fact, favour tourism towards the UK. The UK might suddenly see the number of tourists coming go up.”
The debate came as the EU moved ahead with a new system of security checks that will see travelers from outside the single market charged a €7 fee “travel authorization fee.”
The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) will mean people wanting to enter the Schengen areas will have to fill out an application form ahead of their trip.
The EU said in a statement that the system was necessary in order to improve border security.
It said: “By cross-checking visa-exempt travellers against our information systems for borders, security and migration, the ETIAS will help us identify anyone who may pose a security or migration risk before he or she even reaches the EU border.
“The process for travellers to obtain an authorisation will be affordable, simple and fast and will always be carried out in full respect of fundamental rights and EU data protection rules.”