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Update: what does the government’s Brexit plan really mean for consumers?

Brexit and Westminster

Theresa May’s government published their Brexit White Paper last week – but what does it really mean? Our resident Brexit expert Jane Wallace sets our latest findings…

Update: 12/10/2018

Today, we’ve released our no-deal Brexit report. Our in-depth research has revealed that the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit could mean ‘immediate’ and ‘severe’ consequences for millions of consumers.

We’ve assessed the government’s plans against the tests we set out in our Consumer Charter for Brexit in March 2018: Prices, Rights, Standards and Choice.

Close inspection reveals that the government’s technical papers on leaving the EU suggest a reduction in rights and choice, as well as price hikes that would have a ‘direct and hard’ impact on consumers.

Read our latest news

Download the full report

Update: 13/09/2018

Britons face the return of EU roaming charges under a ‘no-deal Brexit’. Peter Vicary-Smith, Chief Executive of Which?, said:

“Two thirds of people think it is important that free roaming exists when travelling in the EU, so the news that we could face the return of sky-high charges to use our phones abroad will come as a real blow. If the Government is to deliver a Brexit that works for consumers, it needs to not only maintain free-roaming across the EU, but also look to extend the benefit of free-roaming for people visiting countries worldwide.”

Devil’s in the detail

It’s hard to find a front page that hasn’t spoken about Brexit following the Cabinet meeting at Chequers and the publication of the Government’s Brexit White Paper – it’s been everywhere.

As always we’ve been cutting through the rhetoric, reviewing how the Government’s negotiating position for the future UK-EU relationship measures up against our consumer charter.

Good news first: the paper is a certainly a welcome step for consumers including positive proposals Which? has been calling for to ensure a UK-EU deal delivers for consumers – from on-going access to goods, securing energy and food supplies and how people travel.

That said, the paper is not perfect and there are things missing, including a clear commitment that there will be no undermining of food standards – and there’s no commitment made to maintain mobile roaming when visiting the EU.

On the middle ground, there’s a lot contained in the paper where the devil will be in the detail.

We need the Government to ensure the details reflect the ambition such as ensuring an aviation agreement includes compensation so consumers can be confident in their rights.

It is also essential that the where the UK aligns with EU rules, consumer protection is paramount with meaningful input into future legal requirements covering consumer goods.

As well as at the negotiating table the Government must also take the initiative at home. Throughout the paper areas are outlined where the UK won’t align with the EU. In these spaces the Government must step up for consumers and pursue policies which at the very least maintain, if not improve, things for consumers.

There are also steps the Government can be taking now – investing in national systems to support the ambition in enforcement of consumer rights, product safety and food standards.

What we’re calling for

We’re writing to the Prime Minister to deliver our assessment of the white paper. As well as defending and developing the pro-consumer parts of the proposal we’ve outlined five key actions to take. We want the Government to:

1.Commit to maintaining current consumer protections e.g in food safety and quality

2. Ensure the Air Transport deal includes consumer rights such as flight delay compensation

3. Urgently reform the UK product safety and consumer protection system to stop dangerous products reaching our shelves

4. Set out a timeline for Brexit and keep consumers updated on what it actually means for them

5. Provide assurances that where we align with EU, the consumer voice will be represented

Fighting your corner

Of course, this paper is only a starting point and there will no doubt be changes as we move through the negotiations, but it’s reassuring consumer issues are being picked up. We now need to ensure they’re developed as the details are fleshed out and defended around the negotiating table.

As we enter this new phase where consumer issues are up for grabs in Brussels and at home, we’ll be holding the Government’s feet to the fire to ensure the issues consumers care about aren’t traded off or forgotten about and we’ll keep you updated as we go.

Have you been following the Brexit white paper? Would you welcome the Government talking more about what this means for you as a consumer? What would be the best way for the Government to reach consumers to provide updates?

Comments
Member

It is a plausible theory that the EU has used Eire in order to take control of Brexit and to make the UK’s exit from the EU more difficult than it needed to be. It has been suggested that it has done this under its guise of supporting the smaller states where they are under pressure from bigger states [yes . . . tell that to the Greeks!].

Malcom’s proposal is appealing but I can’t believe the DUP would be happy with the unification of Ireland and, as we have seen, they will not easily be bought off.

There is never a solution to the Irish question because every time you come up with an answer they change the question.

Member
Phil says:
24 October 2018

Not only plausible but it is exactly what the EU is doing. I am surprised that no one has observed that the border that existed before was based on controlling terrorism, not the flow of goods, and so the suggestion that a border would put the Good Friday agreement at risk is erroneous as its sole purpose would be to control goods not terrorists. There is a simple solution available – tell the EU that the UK is not going to build a border but if they want to build one they can – just watch the Republic jump to attention at the thought of the EU wrecking access to its most important market! We need to get on the front foot in the negotiation if we want to win.

Member
Phil says:
24 October 2018

I am watching, with excited anticipation, the emerging situation arising from the EU telling Italy that it must revise its budget – this is of course entirely consistent with the EU being just about trade – not politics, economics, fiscal or judicial matters!

Member

Phil -not about politics ?
Phil- If you are watching Italy you know a right -wing party have been voted in by the Italian public because of Donald,s arm-twisting to make the EU agree with his sanctions against Russia , where previously Italy did $Billions trade with Russia.
This hit the public hard with zero effect on America , now they are trying to remove the sanctions, Merkel doesn’t like that and so is applying pressure on Italy.
Italy isn’t the only country who is “rebelling ” against the EU under the same circumstances .
Who runs the EU ?- why the USA.

Member
Phil says:
24 October 2018

You miss my point – we were told in 1973 and 1975 that we were joining or staying in a common market – a trading body – not a political, fiscal, economic, judicial, super power. Where in history is there an example of a trading party interfering in the internal affairs, such as setting a budget, of a sovereign state? The EU will break up in exactly the same way that the USSR and Yugoslavia did so we need to get off the ship before it sinks.

Member

Rome Phil it taxed its conquered countries but I get your point .
America doesn’t want another western area of the world to be in competition with it , America is an empire just like Britain was but its a failing empire the financial debt balloon is about to burst that’s why most countries are selling US debt and buying gold , even the US financial institutions know this .
Yes the USSR broke up but your wrong about Yugoslavia -NATO bombed it into submission and now wants it to join it , the Serbs have long memories and wont accept this.

Member

Not my memory of the Yugoslav war – civil war with many atrocities committed by the original members of Yugoslavia.I also don’t equate the USA with having an “empire” in the way the UK did.

However, this does not seem relevant to Brexit. I agree we joined a trade group, and a shame it didn’t stay that way instead of morphing into a political organisation. I hope we resolve the Irish issue and get the leave underway. We can stand on our own feet better than many (most) EU states. A pity we are not supported by some UK business as well as it could – electric cars to be made in Singapore instead of here, but as in another Convo, some put their own interests first.

Member
Phil says:
25 October 2018

The USSR and Yugoslavia were both held together by violent bullies and when those bullies were removed, by whatever means, they broke up as the construct was false and contradictory to the will and desires of the people. The EU is the same as the USSR and Yugoslavia; it is a bully but without the physical violence.

Member

And the worlds biggest bully Phil ?
Clue – sanctions- then war -then missile bases -then removal of resources.

Member
Phil says:
25 October 2018

You will have to help me out Duncan – who do you have in mind?

Member

Come on Phil I don’t believe for a minute you are naive .

Member

Many states are run by “bullies”, it seems to me. It’s how they get power in the first place, and maintain it.

Member

I believe you have to define what ‘bully’ means in that context.

Member
Phil says:
26 October 2018

Russia, China, Syria, North Korea – who are you actually thinking of Duncan?

Member
Phil says:
26 October 2018

Sounds like China Duncan – is that right?

Member

In wrong place. Moved to duncan’s comment

Member

The EC has “rejected” Italy’s budget. Is it right that they should dictate how a member country deals with its own finances? John McDonnell explained this morning how his party would deal with the UK, increasing school, council and social spending, requiring workers’ shares in companies, privatisation of energy, rail and water at huge cost and debt. If we were to be a full member of the EU would we like that policy blocked because they didn’t like the figures?

Member
Phil says:
25 October 2018

The same could not happen to us unless we joined the Euro and even labour isn’t stupid enough to do that – I hope!!! However, the position with Italy, and before it Greece, explains very neatly the issue with the EU; it has stepped well beyond its original remit.

Member

Malcolm – Perhaps Mr McDonnell’s medicine is what those of us of a certain age want – a huge expansion of public services and social spending with reduced energy and water bills but little damage to the wallet [except for our children and grandchildren].

Incidentally, I presume you meant “nationalisation” not “privatisation” of energy, rail, and water.

Member

Thanks John. Yes, slip of the mind! I meant nationalisation, not privatisation. 🙁 These proposals seem to proceed on the basis that there is a vast pool of talent in the public arena ready to take over the management from those already doing the job.

However, my point was interference in the politic, effectively, of a member state. If we were in the Euro and chose a government with this agenda I would not want the “will of the people” subject to the approval, or otherwise, of Brussels.

As was remarked earlier, a common market for trade purposes was, and would still be, good. Having the choice to adopt other policies would be fine, but having them imposed is not fine.

Member
Phil says:
25 October 2018

It is the same old same old labour chant – keep taking money from the bottomless pit of sovereign debt. Also, if you are old enough to remember British Rail you would not contemplate nationalisation of anything.

Member

Phil what happens when everything is sold off to the Americans , who really runs this country ?
No Phil I have never voted Labour in my life.
But I have no wish to be a third grade “American ” .
Have you read the proposed UK/US trade “agreement ” under “American First ” policy ?

Member
Phil says:
25 October 2018

You mean what is left having already sold most things to; France, Germany, China, Japan, India and Russia? We live on the globe and you either embrace globalisation or stay small and petty.

Member
DerekP says:
25 October 2018

I’m old enough to remember why the nationalisation of the “big four” to form British Railways was necessary after the end of WW2.

Member

Essentially the extreme demands war made on the railways with no means of keeping them in adequate condition, lack of men and materials, had resulted in a clapped out system. After years of bumbling along an antiquated service was rescued by Beeching. Nostalgia is one thing, but lack of passengers and freight on many lines and the more flexible competition from road traffic made this essential.

The mistake then was, I think, separating the infrastructure from the service as the two are so interdependent. Would a single public body be capable of running both? It should be, but my problem with nationalised industry is the lack of incentive to succeed – an essential service will always be bailed out. And, of course, political interference even more than now. Ticket prices when an election approaches….?

Member

Have you told that to Donald ? he is anti-globalisation.

Member

Quite a number of businesses that were nationalised not only ran more efficiently, but ran at a profit for the country. They just didn’t get any publicity from the newspapers, as the news media is largely owned by those with a distinct pro-capitalism bias.

Nationalisation can work, and work very well indeed. It needs to be well managed, but that’s not an insuperably difficult problem. One very powerful argument in favour of ‘true’ nationalisation is that the profits revert to the country itself, and not to private shareholders – many based offshore.

British Rail was not a ‘true’ nationalised industry. The government simply brought it in-house but didn’t allow it to access the market for loans, funding etc. ‘True’ nationalisation is when the government buys up the majority of the shares. The company continues to be quoted and, more importantly, can access all the normal commercial channels for funding. There’s a media-inspired campaign been running against ‘True’ nationalisation for as long as I can remember, and it disappoints me that so many are conned by the printed vitriol.

Member
DerekP says:
25 October 2018

wikipedia.org/wiki/Railways_Act_1921

Nationalisation rescued the big four from the privations of war time demands during WW2. Interestling, Wikipedia says that the grouping was inspired by the national control of the railways during WW1 – seemingly when the railways worked really well, but stopped short of bringing them into state ownership.

Member

A pal of mine (sadly deceased) whom I knew from Oxford worked for BR as it was then, and lamented the poor way they’d nationalised the Railways. He was particularly bitter as there were other nationalised companies thriving, and he told me the management’s hands were well and truly tied.

Thatcher’s answer was to retain the power to cap privatised industries, but this was typical of her brand of venomous bullying and it’s both unnecessary and utterly wasteful.

The Railway industry is enormous; it has several component parts and defies easy management. But I’m sure people exist who can do the job. And the Railways are as critical to the UK as are Water, the Internet and energy supplies.

Member
DerekP says:
25 October 2018

My maternal grandfather was a Great Western man. I guess he must have joined them aged 14 around 1910. Apart from time time away in RASC during WW1, he worked on the railways until shortly before his ultimate retirement.

He also did not like the way British Railways was run, so he left his job as a station master to work as a solicitor’s clerk for the last few years of his working life.

Member

My confidence in government-run enterprises is low, partly because of the political undertones that inevitably will influence them, but also by the inept way it appears some public bodies operate. They seem to lack the commercial acumen that keeps operations properly controlled, both financially and to time. Defence procurement overspends are rife, as a project over-runs; the NHS fragmented purchasing systems seem uncoordinated; huge amounts are spent on consultants when they should have in-house expertise; emergency services new communication system is well over schedule; the cannot put a commercial case together for HS2 and costs continue to escalate; universal credit is a mess; IT contracts have been handled abysmally…….and so on. Apart from that…..

The key to privatised essential services like the railways, energy, water, and even prison, probation and so on is for government to put together proper contracts with adequate provision to deal with lack of performance for example, and to impose appropriate sanctions and penalties if contract conditions are not met. If they cannot do that adequately I don’t see how they can purport to take on the total running of the business.

Member

I think your first two points are inextricably linked. It’s often the political interference that leads to the ineptness in management. Although it’s only fair to say that private companies have the same dismal track record in many cases.

The key for successful government-run industries is to look at those that succeeded and copy their operational models. But one thing should always be the case and that’s the simple fact that although the government – as representatives of the tax-paying public – will have a seat on the board they should not be allowed to use political considerations to determine the way the company is managed. If they nationalise with the model I’ve suggested, the trade rules governing publicly quoted companies wouldn’t permit that, anyway.

Member
Phil says:
26 October 2018

There are two key problems with the idea of nationalising the railways; it will then be owned by the tax payers but 60% of tax payers don’t use trains so will be subsidising those that do and secondly, with the strong union position on the railways, it will be run for the employees not the customers.

Member
DerekP says:
26 October 2018

Phil:

Saying “60% of tax payers don’t use trains so will be subsidising those that do” is a bit like saying healthy adults who don’t use schools or hospitals shouldn’t be paying council tax to fund those things.

Also, you seem to be suggesting that a well run business should exploit its employees? [ Aha, I think I just guessed your surname 😉 ]

Member
Phil says:
26 October 2018

Not the same thing at all; education and healthcare will be used by everyone and/or must be available to everyone in a civilised society. I am not suggesting that a business should exploit its employees nor should it exploit its customers as a result of its employees being able to strike at will.

So; who do you think I am – it isn’t a secret!

Member

It is interesting that we have not had a national rail strike, as far as I remember, since privatisation. The power of one side to bring the whole country to a standstill seems to have gone, but I worry that with a single national enterprise that tactic could return.

I am not in favour of nationalisation for a number of reasons, but am in favour of giving all workers in an industry a share in that industry. whether that is by paying a part of their salary in shares, or simply by giving all a profit-related element in their salary. The incentive to make your business work well seems something many people might find attractive.

Member

I favour nationalisation of some industries and areas. Nuclear power, for example, Water, Electricity, Roads, Trains, Education, Policing… The point about striking being able to bring “the whole country to a standstill” is an interesting one. It’s easy to deal with through Parliament and, in fact, has been in the main by legislation. And some never strike: Doctors, Police (who are prohibited, admittedly) and some others, including the armed forces.

The problem comes when enforcing the law, as the Police then become viewed as an arm of the establishment.

Member
DerekP says:
26 October 2018

In my experience, many railways workers feel a professional calling to provide good public services, as do nurses, firefighters and police.

On the other hand, if you work in a factory that, for example, makes just makes parts for cars, you are less likely to be motivated by a public service ethos and much more likely to be looking at the financial rewards from your work.

Member

Yes – I think that’s true. Those who work for pubic bodies tend to feel a sense of pride in their work.

Member

Latest news on Brexit -October 17th -Business Insider-
Donald Trump’s administration has said the UK must scrap “unjustified” food and agricultural standards before it can sign a free trade deal with the US after Brexit.
The US Trade Representative sent a to letter to US Congress on Tuesday, formally announcing President Trump’s intention to negotiate a free trade deal with the UK once it has left the EU.
The letter states that any UK-EU trade deal must respect the US’ Trade Priorities and Accountability Act, which requires the “reducing or eliminating [of] unjustified sanitary or phytosanitary restrictions” and “other unjustified technical barriers to trade.”
BI highlighted last month that under US food regulation, producers are allowed certain amounts of foreign bodies like maggots, rat-hair and mould in a range of food products sold to consumers.

Member
Dere says:
1 November 2018

Those “septic tanks” need to learn that our UK approach to health and safety is all about reducing risks and protecting people.

For example, some years ago now we banned the private ownership of assault rifles and military handguns, so that folk can safely attend church or school without risking mass shootings.

Member

allowed certain amounts of foreign bodies like maggots, rat-hair and mould“. Could you provide a link to this please?

Member

I used to have it. A tiny amount of rat droppings, insects, and some other unsavoury items are allowed through under FDA regulations. I’ll try to find it again. It actually formed a big part of one of the better Frasier episodes.

Member

Right:

“The FDA handbook lays out the maximum level of allowable contaminants for over 100 food items—from allspice to wheat flour—before the item is considered contaminated and should not be consumed. These little critters could be introduced to the food before, during or after the food was harvested, or even during its processing and packaging.

For example, in whole ginger, the FDA allows up to three milligrams or more of mammalian excreta (i.e. mouse droppings) per pound. In peanut butter, the agency allows an average of fewer than 30 insect fragments per 100 grams—about a quarter of your average jar.”

More fascinating breakfast reading here.

Member
Member

And what is the EU legislation that covers this?

Member

Rather than selective reports in the media this seems to be the relevant document and the range of products covered. https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/SanitationTransportation/ucm056174.htm

Is this permitted contamination unique to the USA, or is it recognition of what must be expected in practice? What equivalent legislation for these specific products is applied in the EU – and the UK?

Member

Yes; that’s certainly more specific:

“Action levels:

Average of 30 or more insect fragments per 10 grams

Rodent filth Average of 1 or more rodent hairs per 10 grams

DEFECT SOURCE: Insect fragments – pre/post harvest and processing insect infestation. Rodent hair – post harvest and/or processing contamination with animal hair or excreta

Allspice, Whole
Mould: Average of 5% or more berries by weight are mouldy

DEFECT SOURCE: : Preharvest and/or post harvest infection
SIGNIFICANCE: Potential health hazard – may contain mycotoxin producing fungi

Apple Butter: Average of mould count is 12% or more

Rodent filth
Average of 4 or more rodent hairs per 100 grams of apple butter

Insects
Average of 5 or more whole or equivalent insects (not counting mites, aphids, thrips, or scale insects) per 100 grams of apple butter”

Member

It seems the EU deal with chemical constituent contamination, so there’s no easy-to-read guide as with the US.

Member

I believe Ian is right and I could not find any equivalent of the US document when I first became aware of it. Microbiological contamination is more problematic because bacteria and other microorganisms can increase in numbers during storage. Perhaps we should reflect on the fact that thanks to the way that chicken is processed, even uncontaminated carcasses can become coated in faeces during processing.