BY Peter Diamond | January 25 2019 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

1-lourdes

HCPT pilgrimage ‘at the mercy of events’ over no deal Brexit

Organisers of Lourdes trip for disabled children remain ‘confidently resolute’ and are committed to ensuring the trip will go ahead.

Concerns have been raised about the affects of a ‘no deal’ Brexit on an annual Lourdes pilgrimage for disabled and disadvantaged children—but organisers are committed to ensuring the trip will go ahead.

As the pilgrimage group said it was ‘at the mercy of events beyond its control’ and was contacting senior French officials to develop contingency plans, Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrew’s & Edinburgh Archdiocese said he ‘firmly hopes and expects’ that ‘centuries of European countries ensuring safe passage of pilgrims’ will continue ‘regardless of whatever emerges from Brexit.’

HCPT-The Pilgrimage Trust takes around 1,000 disabled and disadvantaged children out to Lourdes in France at Easter, supported by volunteer helpers, nurses and priests. The charity this week revealed concerns over flights, visas and the validity of European Healthcare Insurance Card (EHIC) in the event of a no deal Brexit.

If a deal is struck before March 29 between the United Kingdom and the European Union or if Article 50 is extended, the charity said the current pilgrimage arrangements for Easter 2019 would go ahead as planned.

However, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal then HCPT said they cannot control the situation.

 

Uncertainty

A spokesman for HCPT said: “As the Brexit process continues to twist and turn, it is impossible to forecast with confidence what arrangements will be in place on or after Friday March 29.

“A number of outcomes are possible, and so for the moment HCPT is contingency planning for a range of eventualities.

“Current arrangements, such as they affect HCPT’s pilgrimages, would be secure in the event of a deal, or in the event that Article 50 is extended or revoked.

“In the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, primary concerns would centre on flights, visa requirements and reciprocal medical cover.”

The charity added that it is a member of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) who have advised that planes will continue to fly between the UK and the EU in event of a negotiated EU withdrawal, and that in the event of a no deal, ‘the European Commission has said that UK airlines will still be able to operate flights between the UK and the EU.’

The spokesman added: “In terms of visa requirements, we are assured that whereas some documentation—possibility at a modest cost—may be required for UK subjects to travel to the EU as a third country in the future, this would not be the case until 2021.

“The future of the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card), giving reciprocal medical cover, is clearly subject to whatever arrangements are put in place following March 29.

“In the event that such a facility no longer exists for some or all of our 2019 pilgrimages, HCPT will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure continued access to local medical facilities for its pilgrims.

“Whatever happens, we are resolutely confident that HCPT can deliver its 2019 pilgrimages to Lourdes for the benefit of the disabled and disadvantaged children and adults who travel with us.”

HCPT’s bishop president is Archbishop Cushley, who stated his hope for pilgrimage travel to continue ‘if and when we leave the EU.’

“For many centuries European countries have co-operated to ensure the safe passage of pilgrims to the great shrines of our continent and, so, it would be my firm hope and expectation that HCPT will continue this great tradition regardless of whatever emerges from the present Brexit process,” he said.

“HCPT were taking children on pilgrimage to Lourdes for many years prior to the UK joining the EU and will continue to do so if and when we leave the EU.”

 

Positive outlook

Lourdes, which has a population of about 17,000, receives tourist numbers upwards of six million per year.

Tangney Tours has been chartering pilgrimages to Lourdes since 1974 and chairman John Tangney believes the Brexit process will hopefully be worry-free for tour companies like his.

Mr Tangney said: “Business is very good and I’m very positive about the Brexit process as I don’t think it will cause too much disruption at all.

“Our chartered flights for 2019 have all been brokered and contracted with British Airways and we have bought our currency in advance so if the economy collapses, which I don’t think it will, we’ll still be in a solid position.

“In terms of relying on the French authorities for trips across Europe, I would say those countries don’t want the hassle.

They’ll want to minimise disruption for themselves and that includes when their citizens want to travel to Britain.

“It is a similar story with the EHIC. I believe that when a deal is struck that by in large the system that’s in place will continue either in the same vein or on one which still looks after people at minimal expense.

“As a company we have already received our quotes for 2020 and the travel insurance price estimate has only went up by £1 or so.

“I’m of an age when I remember times before we were in the EU so by in large I believe there is a lot of scaremongering going on with a number of issues. For example, having an international driving permit was never an issue before we joined so I don’t see how it could be a legitimate requirement.

“On the whole, we as a company have no worries about our planned 2019 schedule and, as members of ABTA, if any unexpected hiccups arise will mean clients will be fully refunded. We are financially sound going forward and we will not be April fools after March 29.”

 

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