An Update from the UK Alpine Sports Group for BASI Members

Thanks in part to the efforts of various MP’s and Peers lobbying in partnership with BASI and the Alpine Sports Group (ASG), the Secretary of State for International Trade committed in writing to ensuring that the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) provide support to Governing Bodies, Regulators and Associations as they work through the process of securing qualification recognition in various EU member states.  

On the 15th July 2021, representatives of the ASG met with BEIS representatives as well as with a Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) attaché to the British Embassy in Switzerland to discuss how to minimise the negative consequences of Brexit upon UK Alpine Sports. All these representatives have been focussed on negotiations with the EU on the Recognition of Professional Qualifications, the mobility of UK nationals within/across the EU, and the UK’s policy towards the EU on these topics. 

BEIS confirmed that they have now formed a new Recognition Arrangements team which will provide the ASG and BASI with support as we continue to negotiate agreements with our counterparts in EU Member States. They also talked through the government’s new Professional Qualifications Bill, which seeks to revoke the temporary approach put in place since the end of the Transition Period and replace it with a more global approach, one less focussed on giving priority to EEA/EFTA professionals. The ASG made it clear that it believes the focus of the Professional Qualifications Bill remains primarily the attraction of “the right talent” to come to the UK rather than thinking about the talent we send out to the rest of the world, but accepted that this, combined with the UK’s Trade & Cooperation Agreement with the EU, at least provides an overall framework for our Governing Bodies & Associations to follow.  

The ASG were left in no doubt that whilst we now have support from the government, irrespective of whether we pursue bilateral agreements with individual states or a Master Recognition Agreement across the whole of the EU27, it remains the case that recognition by EU states remains at their sole discretion. 

The ASG then provided an update to BEIS on the overall impact of Brexit on UK Alpine Sports, from snowsports to mountaineering, from grass roots to elite level performance, from volunteers to professionals and from retail to wholesale trade. Specifically, the issues of qualification recognition, working rights, equipment transport and provision of services were discussed. This included cross-border service provision between high priority EU countries by those covered under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, provision of services by these people from EU countries into Switzerland, and service provision directly from the UK to the EU. The ASG provided a clear set of target outcomes for Alpine volunteers & professionals which we believe our members could “live with” to mitigate the impact of Brexit & loss of mobility & working rights. 

The ASG has committed to providing BEIS with a breakdown of what we understand the barriers to achieving these outcomes are, along with our preferred approach for securing recognition agreements. In return, BEIS has committed to providing members of the ASG with support in attaining these recognition agreements and also support & tactics in removing the barriers to achieving our target outcomes on behalf of our members, provided that the ASG and its members lead the process.  

The conversation then turned to a country-specific issue which has arisen as a consequence of Brexit  – the ability of some alpine professionals to operate in Switzerland and in certain Swiss Cantons. Particular attention was drawn to a recent letter sent by the Canton of Valais to Directors of snowsport schools restricting their ability to employ British nationals. ASG member BASI stated that they have already written to the author of this letter to express their disappointment and requested an explanation of the rationale and legal basis for the decision; the response received back was wholly unsatisfactory and simply raised more questions. It was therefore agreed that the FCDO and BASI would send a jointly signed letter to the Swiss authorities requesting further clarification on exact requirements by the Canton of Valais, challenging these restrictions to short term work permits and exploring ways in which our workforce could continue to access the market not only in Valais but also in the Cantons of Vaud, Grisons and Bern. Other federal-level routes are being worked on but these cannot be disclosed at the moment.  

BEIS also confirmed that they are currently pushing hard on the EU and Switzerland to allow provision of services into neighbouring countries from British nationals operating under the terms of the EU Withdrawal Agreement. Whilst we have no further information to report, it was reassuring to hear that the UK Government now understands and recognises the constraints currently faced by UK nationals now resident in EU states and their need to work across borders. 

As a final point, it was noted that the approach taken by the Alpine Sports Group (i.e. joining forces to liaise with BEIS/UK Gov’t) was appreciated by the representatives at the meeting; they stated that it has been difficult for them to prioritise when dealing not only with multiple associations and governing bodies, but also with individual members who have been getting in touch. So with this in mind, we have a request – please channel any enquiries, information and ideas through BASI rather than approaching government departments directly. This way, with your ongoing support, your Association can work on your behalf in partnership with other members of the Alpine Sports Group in the most efficient manner. 

Published and written on Friday 30th July 2021 by Tom Cloke, Interim CEO at BASI