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…
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.
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?