‘No deal’ Brexit could hit international coach services

The government’s warnings this week that international coach services could be significantly affected by a ‘No deal’ Brexit have led to a stern rebuke from CPT about failure to prepare adequately for this eventuality.

The government continues to claim that Brexit negotiations “are progressing well”, but has now published a document on the implications for coach trips to Europe beyond 29 March 2019. If there is no deal, the government warns that UK bus and coach operators could no longer rely on automatic recognition by the EU of UK-issued Community Licences (O licences). 

“EU countries may choose to recognise that UK-issued operator licences and associated authorisations are based on the same standards as EU Community Licences and not require further authorisations,” according to the document, ‘Operating bus or coach services abroad if there’s no Brexit deal’. “This would ensure continued passenger movement, but cannot be guaranteed.”

The UK government is relying on joining the current Interbus Agreement as an independent member once it leaves the EU, which would allow coach operators to carry out occasional services (including coach tours and holidays) between the participating countries. In addition to the EU countries there are seven eastern European members: Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Turkey and Ukraine. But the government concedes that this arrangement may not be in place before 29 March.

“CPT is extremely disappointed that the Government has not seen fit to ensure that passenger movements into and across Europe can continue if we leave the EU without a deal,” says Steven Salmon, CPT director of policy development. “I have been discussing the implications of Brexit on our members who operate coach holidays and tours, educational trips and intercity services into Europe for many months and very much regret that the government has taken this position.

“A number of important questions remain unanswered in the no deal scenario, such as whether British coach drivers will need working visas or work permits. CPT supports the Government in its efforts to reach a deal with the EU which will enable our members to continue to trade and offer the services their passengers currently enjoy.”

UK drivers will continue to be able to drive in all EU countries after we have left, under the Geneva and Vienna Conventions, but this may now require an International Driving Permit to be obtained before departure and carried whilst driving for both commercial and private purposes in the EU.

The government has confirmed that it will maintain the transport manager and driver CPC schemes, and EU-issued CPC documentation will be recognised in the UK after leaving the EU. This includes both transport manager CPCs and driver CPCs. If there is no deal, automatic recognition by EU countries of UK-issued CPCs would cease, but if the UK joins the Interbus Agreement, it says that UK bus and coach drivers holding a UK CPC would be able to drive for work in the EU.

The document says: “If there is any delay to the UK joining Interbus (for example, if there is a time gap between 29 March 2019 and Interbus coming into force) then, as with Community Licences, EU countries may choose to continue to recognise UK-issued CPC in practice, but this cannot be guaranteed”.

The government advice puts the onus on operators, and suggests that those companies who are taking travel bookings which involve coach travel in Europe after 29 March 2019 may wish to consider contractual terms with their customers that allow them to subcontract all or part of the coach travel to EU-based operators if necessary.

CPT has suggested that operators may wish to also consider contractual terms with customers which could limit liability to compensation and recommends operators obtain legal advice, pointing out that in the airline industry, which faces a similar risk from a no-deal scenario, some operators are selling tickets for travel after 29 March with a clause that limits their liability to a refund in the event of it being impossible for them to carry the passenger for the journey they have booked.