Border Watching: The Impact of Brexit and COVID-19

This month we published Tourism and Brexit edited by Hazel Andrews. In this post Hazel discusses the impact that Brexit and subsequently the COVID-19 pandemic have had on the UK.

When I was initially invited to write a book about tourism and Brexit it at first felt problematic. Although the referendum on leaving the EU had taken place nearly two years before in June 2016, when Tourism and Brexit was conceived, the UK had not left the EU and a withdrawal deal had not been settled. It was hard to envision what tourism to and from the UK would be like. In addition, Brexit was subject to on-going debate not only in the UK parliament, but also in numerous news media forums and, for me, like many others, a bit of Brexit fatigue had set in. 

However, Brexit is too important an issue to be left un- or under-explored, especially from the perspective of tourism and the ramifications that a change in freedom of movement might bring to travel practices, which sit alongside understandings of how welcoming a place the UK would be as it reconfigured and repositioned itself on the global stage. The implications of the UK’s departure from the EU has consequences far beyond the country’s immediate borders.

The referendum campaign and the resulting outcome drew attention to stark divisions within the UK, not only in terms of whether to leave or remain, but also between the countries that make up the UK and further still in terms of class and regional identities, age, education and so on. Questions of identity seemed to be at the forefront of debate.

In the immediate aftermath of the referendum result things felt strange as if something palpable had changed in the atmosphere of the country. Many regarded family, friends, neighbours and colleagues in a new light, wondering which way they had voted. Couples divorced, people left the country or began to actively seek citizenship elsewhere. Trust in the UK and those around us had changed.

Those who voted leave doubtless placed trust in the campaign leaders that exiting from the EU would herald a new era characterised by easily made trade deals and control over the UK’s external borders. Since June 2016 and the ongoing debates, it seems that trust has become a keyword in the sociocultural and political landscape of the UK.

The UK officially left the EU on 31st January 2020, entering a transition period as the UK and EU began negotiations about their future relationship. The debates were far from over, but Brexit was no longer centre stage, it had been usurped by COVID-19.

COVID-19 has wrought damage around the world in many ways. It is understandable that it presently dominates much of our thinking. Among its side-effects has been the immeasurable damage to the tourism and hospitality sectors. However, in September 2020 Brexit was front page news again.  

This reemergence into the spotlight was based on the UK Government’s announcement that they would break international law with the Internal Markets Bill, thus changing elements of the Withdrawal Deal that they, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, had themselves agreed with the EU. The move was widely condemned in the UK and EU, as well as within the United States. Questions were raised about how any other government in the world would be able to trust the UK ever again.

Campaigns to leave the EU and Johnson’s response to COVID-19 have both made appeals to a sense of national character. Among such traits is the idea of fair play, enshrined in expressions like the motto of the London Stock Exchange ‘my word is my bond’. It seems ironic then that one of the qualities that is supposed to make us who ‘we’ are could so readily be abandoned. Perhaps going forward questions will be not just based on how welcoming the UK is, but also how trustworthy.

English-Welsh Border sign on the A494 highlighting different COVID-19 rules © Hazel Andrews

Border watching has never been more important whether this be the safeguarding of the borders of our bodies against the Coronavirus and the placing of our trust in those around us to help keep each other safe, or the need to watch not only what the external borders of the UK will be after 31st December 2020, but also what the internal borders in the UK will look like in the years to come.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Brexit and Tourism by Derek Hall.

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