Why we’re talking about . . .

Is Brexit to blame for the travel chaos?

Thousands of half-term holidaymakers have had flights cancelled or delayed

Chaos at Britain’s airports has resulted in hundreds of flights being delayed and thousands of people’s holiday plans disrupted as politicians and travel bosses point fingers at each other over who is to blame.

The Observer reported that aviation minister Robert Courts was warned by unions at the start of the year that widespread disruption was “inevitable” and that government intervention was needed to prevent problems at British airports. 

Courts was told in late January “that the industry wouldn’t be able to cope with high demand unless it received help to offset chronic staff shortages”, said the paper.

The union bosses’ predictions “played out in sometimes farcical scenes” last week as hundreds of flights were cancelled during one of the busiest periods of the year, leading to “day-long delays and massive queues snaking out of terminal buildings”.

‘Brexit plus Covid’

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said that the travel chaos was “self-inflicted from the government” and said the chaos was down to “Brexit plus Covid”, said the Independent.

Speaking on BBC1’s Sunday Morning, he called on the government to relax immigration rules to allow EU workers who have returned to their country of origin following Brexit to come back to the UK in order to fill gaps left in the industry by their departure.

Khan said that the government could “very easily” make sure those people “are encouraged to come back” to the jobs they were in before returning to their country of origin.

“What the government’s got to do is get around the table with the aviation sector, the airports, those who run the airlines, to see what exactly their problems are. If there is a shortage, change the list to make sure those [workers] can come easier than other occupations,” he added. 

Aviation staff cuts ‘too deep’

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps denied that aviation staff shortages were caused by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and instead pointed to staff cuts made by the industry during the Covid-19 pandemic, which he said were “too deep”. 

He rejected the call for lighter immigration measures for EU aviation workers who wish to work in the UK, and said it was instead down to aviation companies to attract British workers by offering higher pay. He told Sunday Morning’s Sophie Raworth: “The answer can’t always be to reach for the lever marked ‘More immigration’.”

“We are seeing the same problems across Europe. If it were only to do with Brexit, then there wouldn’t be a problem at Schiphol [airport in Amsterdam] or elsewhere. So that clearly can’t be true,” he said. 

“I didn’t vote for Brexit, but the country did and we made our choice. We want a high-wage, high-skill economy. That means the aviation sector, like all other sectors – as the HGV lorry-driver sector has now done – must train people domestically,” he said. 

Shapps also rejected a call from Ryanair’s chief executive Michael O’Leary to call in the Army to ease disruption, a demand made in The Times on Saturday. 

Shapps said the government was looking at ways people could access compensation for their missed or delayed holidays, including automatic reimbursement for cancelled holidays “more like how ‘delay repay’ works on trains”, he explained. 

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