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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?


Which emailed me today with, among other things:
“This Autumn, it’s likely the government will be looking at new legislation to lay the groundwork for the UK’s food and farming policy. This will be a crucial moment for consumers.

To make sure the government takes account of the food standards consumers want – and don’t want – we’re taking our findings to them. We’ll be making the case for consumers and ensuring your voice is heard. And any calls we make on the government will be backed up by our rigorous polling and research.

I’m pleased to see this is being pursued. One possible problem post-brexit is that to take part in international trade agreements there will have to be compromise. That may well mean opening our food market up to the same standards of some of those we wish to trade with. In my view, as long as food is properly labelled as to its origins and methods of production, and as long as we are made aware of the upsides and downsides, I can make an informed decision.

Regarding product safety I see no deteriioration as we will want to use the same standards for our trade. The biggest problem with product standards is their lack of enforcement by the UK – Trading Standards has regressed into Citizens Advice, amazon is not prosecuted for selling potentially dangerous goods – so the remedy lies totally in our own hands and has nothing to do with Brexit.

As regards the White Paper it means nothing until a deal is negotiated and the facts are known. Now, as always, is the time to stick oars in and make constructive proposals to government but we cannot deal with the outcome until an outcome is known.

No, I haven’t read the white paper because I don’t have a copy and don’t have the time or inclination to plough through it. From a read through of the introduction, it would seem that these proposals are couched in general terms and it is actually how these ideas can be made into practicalities -the nuts and bolts – that need to be defined. Of course the paper is only as good as the negotiating team can deliver and both sides have to make the ideas work.
When trading with other nations outside the E.U. the consumer could well decide that food from a particular country is not palatable. If it’s not bought then deals will be short lived and a lot of wastage will occur. Likewise, other goods may not appeal to consumers and this would wreck imports and either produce unwanted stock piles or quota agreements will be broken. Any country insisting on our purchase of their products as part of a trade deal needs to have things for sale that we wish to buy.

The E.U. is not going to agree to trade, borders, people movements and law changes just because the white paper says they must. If they can be persuaded to compromise and give some ground, they can not be faced by the likes of Fox, Johnson and Rees-Mogg. Their demands will not be met and their belligerence would make negotiating impossible. If these people decide to wreck the white paper then what is left will also fail. I am still very fearful of a no deal situation, with so many uncertainties that this brings, since no side will know how to react to the other, and things will fall apart. The chaos that brings will certainly be felt by us all in many unpleasant ways. Which may want to influence the government but they have enough problems of their own and Which can only put forward their ideals when they know what is proposed and what has been accepted. I don’t see busy ministers taking much notice in the interim.

This is a very wide ranging topic, but I would like to pick up on the first of the aims of Which? as outlined in Jane’s introduction:

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

I am very unhappy about certain aspects of food safety as it stands.

– There is no requirement for restaurants etc. to display their food hygiene rating. For years it has been a requirement in Wales and there is an incentive to improve because a good rating can be used for advertising.

– Premises with a zero or 1 food hygiene rating are allowed to continue trading for an extended period, despite falling seriously short of the expectations of environmental health officers.

– Larger businesses such as food processors have been allowed to self-regulate.

– There are far too many alerts about foods containing undeclared ingredients.

Perhaps Brexit will provide a driver for improvement in these areas.

Display of food hygiene regulations – saw Fake Britain this week (BBC2) many outlets are showing top food ratings which are apparently false – Food Safety Authority apparently list all food ratings for all outlets – there is an app – and advice was to check on the app, not rely on what was displayed and this could be false – and was in many cases

Like all regulations they have to be properly “policed” to make sure they are upheld and not abused. Much of this is delegated to local authorities but if they haven’t the money they can’t do it properly – the decimation of trading standards is a prime example. We need to pay to get what we want. The EU will not do it for us, but they may fine us if we don’t do it.

Thanks Anna. Here is a link to the programme on iPlayer, which I had not seen: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bc2jgm/fake-britain-series-8-30-minute-reversions-episode-5 The fact that display of food hygiene rating is not mandatory in England is mentioned.

It is easy to check food hygiene ratings on this page: http://ratings.food.gov.uk and there is a link to a phone app.

As Malcolm says regulations need to be properly policed but in the meantime we can all help. I reported a case where the rating was shown incorrectly and it was corrected, though not as quickly as I would have liked.

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This might be relevant: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/food-standards-scrap-brexit-supermarket-consumers-chlorine-washed-chicken-pesticides-a7591956.html

Food safety and environmental issues were two of the main reasons why I was keen to remain in the EU.

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“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.”

Holding the Govt’s feet to the fire! I am impressed.

Reminds me a bit of Spike Milligans ” Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall”. I am all in favour of consumer protection and rights but I am having trouble seeing what Which? thinks it can do given its quiescence in the dismemberment of the Trading Standards of the UK. And its abject failure to notice the dirty dealings of the major builders until the Nationwide Building Society blew the whistle.

Both of these had and have major effects on the consumers in the UK but did not have Which? holding any portion of the Govt.’s body to the fire. Is that because they were practical events rather than airy-fairy outlines?

Seriously it would be nice to have some rationale from Which? – the CEO, the Directors , or the Trustees of the Consumer Association as to why this subscription based consumer body failed to act.

I am afraid that the way that the Brexit situation is now unravelling means that Which?’s legitimate expectations will pale into insignificance as a No Deal exit looms ever closer. Until recently I thought this was unlikely but now I am not so sure. It is rapidly becoming a distinct possibility as well as internal political turmoil that will destabilise the economy. Whether we can maintain flight delay compensation becomes academic if we cannot even fly to the continent because the terms and conditions are prohibitive.

I think the only way out of this now is to allow Parliament to have a secret ballot – a constitutionally unprecedented procedure that could have all sorts of long-term repercussions, which is probably why no one has suggested it.

Would like a Peoples Vote – so may lies before the referendum – and Gov. lost majority at last General Election to no real mandate

Neill Malcolm says:
20 July 2018

I don’t think the government really want us to know what is in store for the consumers when (If) Brexit is in operation. It will mean a falling in the standard of living for all but the very rich (who can afford it), diminished choice of goods available. How many more business will either close or fell abroad. The government must be more open about what is in store and we MUST have a say in approving whatever is decided. That is a second referendum.

Neill, until we have a Brexit plan that is agreed I do not know how anyone can predict the future.We can all speculate, of course. I happen to believe, despite starting off as a marginal remainer, that we will eventually be better off outside the control of the EU, but it may take time.

There is much about the EU I dislike – unelected managers, overloaded with bureaucracy, inefficiency, poor financial control, incompetence, things we can all do equally well or better ourselves but one layer of them is enough for me. Oh, and their public attitude towards the UK does not endear me to them nor give confidence in their professionalism. But that’s just my cynical, jaded view.

I think we have the character and ability to stand on our own feet but to do that we need a bit of a kicking to lose our dependence on financial services and get innovative manufacturing on a sounder basis.

malcolm r – when you wrote about “unelected managers, overloaded with bureaucracy, inefficiency, poor financial control, incompetence…” I thought you meant the Conservative administration (I won’t call it government). In fact, the EU has significantly fewer ‘bureaucrats’ for 28 countries than we do for one. It also has an elected parliament (although 70% of voters from this country often did not bother to vote – they did not seem to be interested in control back then). The UK had more control over the EU than almost every other country. And there were no laws passed that we did not agree to. The EU was not perfect but you have to be in it to change it. Which are wasting their time. If we get ‘no deal’ you can forget money for education and health since we will all be significantly poorer. Do some research and you will see what an utter mess this all is.

I could not agree more,we as a nation need the European Union but what tends to annoy me more than anything is these cretinous xenophobia’s who are so full of drivel regarding our place in the European Union, the likes of Mogg, Gove, Johnson et al who we know have plenty of money with which they can live through a disasterous Brexit.They continuously spout loss of Sovereignty and we can do much better if we go it alone,these people have no idea how the prosperity of this country has improved since we joined the Union.Most of these clowns are too young to know much about the benefits of being a member. I am 75 years old and I can remember quite vividly what the U.K. was like before our entry into the Union and I believe Brexit is the biggest mistake this country has ever made.

c wilson says:
20 July 2018

I believe that the only fair democratic thing the government can do now is to hold a second referendum.
When the first referendum was run we did not know the effect leaving would have on the UK.
We were badly misinformed if not deliberately misled about the outcome. Many people voted leave as a protest not really expecting the leave vote to win, but wanting their protest noted.
So many people are coming out now wanting to vote again and we are being told this would not be democratic and is not the will of the people. Well I think the Government should stop listening to the hard liners and start looking at what is best for the UK as a whole and what the people really want. There would not be this disarray if the majority of the UK wanted out.

A few assumptions here that many might not agree with. 10% more people voted to leave than remain. I wonder, in the light of the childish way the EU seem to be behaving, how many more might now vote to leave. Nothing I have seen inspires any confidence in staying in the EU, and I speak as a marginal remainer who thought the defective status quo was safer. I’ve now shifted my view.

The EU, particularly some individual countries, need us as much as we need them. If they have any common sense they will engineer a deal that suits us both; otherwise they will simply be cutting off their nose etc. If they do not strike a good compromise my estimation of them will sink even lower.

Were the EU being seen to work out a good plan with the UK I would feel more respect for them. Maybe they are behind all the public bluster; I do hope so.

I suspect one reason the EU high command is trying to make it difficult is the fear of other members doing the same as the UK.

Miss J. Farrell. says:
20 July 2018

I Think there is a lot of concern about what the Government has set out to do with Brexit,
I don’t think everything is set out clear, because it is uncertain overall to what the outcome will be.

Brexit a risk too far:
Can we really afford to take this Brexit risk and it’s potential for huge job losses, loss of control of Europe’s money power house in the city,many businesses taking their taxes,profits,jobs and other benefits abroad and away from the UK. With over 50% of UK businesses foreign owned, will there be a free for all for the other 50%? Just look at the problems up to now a lot of household names closed and bankrupt, many high streets are like ghost towns, it will take possibly 20 years to recover if it does at all.One of the biggest losses will be loss of faith in British industry and loss of face for the British worker. The only gainers will be the millionaire’s club in power who will probably go off and live in the Seychelles/Bahamas. They already show their disrespect by investing in foreign companies and lying at every opportunity to the people the are supposed to represent.The only way to correct things is to re-join the EEC/Europe invest in British industry so that as near full employment can be achieved this will have many effects including reducing crime and consequently the cost of crime,restoring self-respect and family values to the workers of Britain and raising the pound sterling in value.

Michael Chambers says:
21 July 2018

I also believe practically everything you have stated. I also find it amazing that discussions about Brexit are being mainly disputed by Juncker & Tusk. One is a very heavy drinker, and the other needs to sort out his family problems, being that his son opened a banking institute in Poland, acquired billions and millions of Polish zloty, then did a runner with all the money, and left the poor citizens bankrupt. This crime has never been sorted out, and I don’t think for one moment that Tusk has not had contact to this son. In other words, “He is harbouring a criminal”, and then we turn back to Brexit, and see this same man threatening the UK on many fronts.
Neither of these two person’s are trustworthy, and certainly should not be scrutinizing Brexit!

ArbOl says:
4 August 2018

“One is a very heavy drinker, and the other needs to sort out his family problem”

Personal abuse is a sure sign of failing.

Play the ball, not the man.

I have the impression that many people voted to leave because of issues such as immigration, the cost of membership and retaining UK courts as the final arbiters of UK law. However, when it comes to the actual terms of Brexit is appears to be all abut the quality of the trading relationship with the EU and the rest of the world. No one is saying that realizing the above ambitions is worth putting Britain in a poor economic position or risking a recession with job losses and a reduction in the standard of living. From an economic point of view “in is good” and out “decidedly uncertain”. Ask me again in 5 years if Brexit was a good idea!

Michael Chambers says:
21 July 2018

I voted to remain, as I live and own property, but retired in February, this year. My family are Austrian, and I am British. As my family will not move to England, and I will not get divorced, to return home without them, I naturally voted to remain.
I understand the feelings that a lot of British people have in regards the problem with immigrants, as I see regularly here in Austria.

[Sorry, your comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines. Please do not make rude or offensive comments. https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, Alex.]

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Brexit doesn’t seem to be about detaching ourselves in the way the leavers want. It’s more about untangling the complicated threads that have been woven over the years. How, exactly the two sides of the channel will exist and do business with each other without building a wall in Calais and a wall in Dover. No one seems to be able to sort that out and the ideals of Brexit will never be achieved until there is a way of making sure that things and people can move across the channel -both ways – in an orderly fashion without hindrance, as happens at the moment.

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When deciding whether or not to vote for Brexit there was not sufficient information available. I voted to remain but had I not voted so I would now change my mind.

I think we should have a second referendum now that we have more facts (or at least I think we have)

Dolapo Adepoju says:
20 July 2018

I believe for now, when a situation like the issue of Brexit is beyond human control it’s means we need God’s intervention.
This nation should not undermine the power of the sovereign God and the key is prayer.

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I think it is so important that Which have focussed on the five (or so) areas of concern for consumers which are ignored in the White Paper. How I wish these had been displayed on banners up and down the country at the time of the referendum, whose result is a slide towards catastrophe for consumers, whatever the end result. And consumer interest is just one aspect; the political message sent by our incompetence in pulling back the whole process is damaging for generations.

Looking forward to a hard Brexit and having strong trade relationships with countries throughout the world. Too many factions pouring rain on the parade. Lets think positive about a good opportunity!


So 73 % are concerned about food standards post Brexit, but I really do think more would be concerned if they were more enlightened about the situation.

What really does concern me is the inability of the present administration, especially the PM, to think outside the Box.
She has said that standards will not be lowered post-Brexit.
She is also very keen to talk about trade with America.
We cannot have both.

Trump is clearly very anti-EEC.
His notion of a good deal is one that maximizes profits for the producers, the welfare of the consumers do not come into it.
So the EEC’s refusal to accept, for example, the use of pesticides with crops, he interprets as anti-American, because the chemical companies concerned are American.
It is the same issue with GM crops. Americans clearly have no choice about eating GM crops, the producers like it, and what the response to his trade war has revealed is that American Corporate Farmers are overproducing, with things like two crops a year with GM , and the recent issue of surplus stocks in silos of corn and soya beans, even reached p.8 of last weeks FT Weekend.
There are multiple issues across the board, ranging from hormone beef, chicken and disinfectants, and a dairy industry that cannot look after its lifestock, so milk needs special treatment, cheese will not last as long and so on.
Such things do not matter to Trump, he will still have his macburgers.

The creation of corporation American has put the worst side of capitalism on the throne once occupied by democracy.

What about India? Unfortunately they are following Trumps’ model, herbicides with Basmatti rice, because they are being led by the same ends.

The past week has also shown Maybot’s ability to erase red lines and pretend that nothing has changed.I do not know about concerned, we should be very worried.

I may be an optimist but is there now a glimmer of hope that the EU are going to enter into a helpful discussion on the Irish border (next week) rather than dictate terms? I do hope so.

BREXIT is a disaster bought with lies by people with no real plan. If it happens industry will leave and the country will be poorer and forced to make concessions to larger groups (India, USA tec). It needs to be stopped

Aw says:
20 July 2018

Brexit means brexit give the PM a chance-and let’s get on with it-the people have voted!!you can’t keep having people voting until you get the answer you want!! Let’s get out of this unelected boys club called the EU!

Michael Chambers says:
21 July 2018

I personally think the PM and her croonies, have had more chances than the general public have been given. The remainers lied to get the votes, and that is why a second referendum should be carried out, with what the general public now know!

My impression is that with what the general public have witnessed from the European Commission over the period since the Referendum they are more likely to vote to leave; it would depend on the question. of course. If it were the same as last time then I think there would be a 60% out vote.

The way the EU have behaved towards the decision made by the UK people, not their government, leads me to agree, John. Now, had the EU set out to accept the democratic decision we made and worked to reach an agreement that would be as good as possible for both sides I would feel a bit more sympathy towards them. However, the EU hierarchy seem scared about the possibilities of other disillusioned states being motivated to act in a similar way so can only adopt a hostile attitude, with which I have no sympathy.

One of the problems for the future of the EU is that the UK joined as a nett contributor before the major expansion that included many states dependent on massive subsidies and infrastructure investments. Brexit leaves the EU with a serious financial problem so it could precipitate moves by the populations of the wealthier countries to question their continued membership at an escalating cost to their economies. Their relative economic power could be adversely affected and the whole house of cards could start to wobble. As you say, trying to hold it all together is exactly what has motivated the Commission in the negotiations. I have a slight hope that the feelings of some of the other 27 states who have good trade with the UK will not wish to jeopardise that and have a moderating effect on the negotiating stance as we enter the final bend. It might just be dawning on the continentals with the weaker economies that if the British feel they have been kicked out without a cent we shall be looking elsewhere for most of what we need to import and where we choose to have our holidays, and that would hurt the southern and eastern states the most.