/ Travel & Leisure

What happens to vital consumer protections after Brexit?

Many areas of our lives, including healthcare abroad, keeping our homes warm and travel rights, are protected by EU laws that need much greater attention during Brexit negotiations. That’s why we’ve launched our Consumer Charter.

Politicians have been playing Punch and Judy over Brexit for the past 18 months – and it’s true that there is plenty to fight about. Yet for all the undoubted drama, some of the most important issues affecting our lives in this country have barely been discussed.

New Brexit charter for consumers

These issues include the EU rules that ensure imported food is safe, that give us access to vital healthcare for ourselves and our children in neighbouring countries, and which give us cheap phone calls abroad. Even airline travel would, for a while at least, become extremely difficult.

That’s why today we’ve launched our Consumer Charter – and called on the government to embrace our blueprint for protecting our rights.

We want to work with ministers and with businesses to stop important consumer rights from being diluted or, worse still, lost entirely if negotiations go badly wrong.

Flight confusion

We recently contacted the UK’s five biggest travel companies (Thomas Cook, TUI, Jet 2, Expedia, and On the Beach) to see what information they were providing about the possible status of flights being booked for travel after the UK has left the EU. We found that it wasn’t clear what the consequences of an aviation deal not being in place once the UK leaves the EU would be.

This could leave holidaymakers who are booking holidays from 29 March 2019 in limbo. We want the government to make sure the same level of access is maintained after Brexit and provide clarity as soon as possible about consumers’ rights and airline obligations.

Time to work together

This uncertainty for holidaymakers is just one of the many issues affecting our everyday lives that needs to be a priority as we move closer to the date that we leave the EU. We want to work with government and businesses on these issues to help deliver a Brexit that puts consumers first.

This is not to reach a judgment about a hard Brexit, a soft Brexit or any kind of Brexit. Just a plea that the interests of ordinary consumers get the priority they deserve.

At a minimum, we should fight to maintain what we currently have in place in all areas that affect consumers. In an ideal world, we will improve the situation of consumers.

Consumer needs must come first

Which? research has shown that many people haven’t really considered any of these issues. Our fear is that some of our politicians haven’t sufficiently considered them, either. And we cannot sweep these critical consumer issues under the carpet and just expect everything to work out.

We have set out a Charter that we believe will put consumers first in Brexit negotiations and provides solutions on what can be done to improve how our systems currently work.

The Charter sets out more detailed priorities that need immediate action from government to make Brexit a success. These concentrate on the areas of consumer landscape, food, energy, travel and transition – highlighting not just the potential risks for consumers, but the opportunities to improve our existing systems as we leave the EU.

What are your views?

Do you support our Charter? What consumer issues would you like the government to address in its negotiations?

This is an edited version of an article that recently appeared on This is Money.

Comments

HM Revenue & Customs report to each Tax payer how their tax was spent in the previous year. I am retired and living on a small private pension and last financial year 0.69% of the tax I paid went to the EU. For the security the EU provides to me, my children and grandchildren, this is a bargain which would never be matched by the “wonderful” deals our parliament promises to negotiate with other countries.

In 2016 it seems our net contribution to the EU was £8.6 bn. There are around 30.3 million taxpayers, so on average each is contributing £284 a year to the EU.
If this represents 0.69% of your annual tax then you’ll be paying £41160 in tax. Doesn’t seem likely on a small pension so somewhere the figures are wrong.

A large part of the £8.6 bn EU contribution is funded through indirect taxation – customs duties on imports from non-EU countries and VAT on goods and services within the EU. Of course, everyone pays VAT, and we don’t all pay income tax at the same rates or on the same income base, so we can’t apply a simple apples = pears calculation like this.

If HMRC numbers are correct, 0.69% is a small price to pay for peace and economic stability in Europe.

Em2, it doesn’t matter how the EU cvontributionis raised it still comes out of UK peoples pockets, and could be used for care and the NHS, for example. If you prefer, it is equivalent to around £374 per household. Putting a small % to it is not really meaningful.

Anna says:
17 March 2018

Thank you for continuing to check on rules and regulations for us consumers, Which? I’m very relieved about that. I have my personal views about Brexit of course, but either way I trust you to look after my best interests. I had heard that there’s a mountain of rules. Yes! Which? will make sure that the ones that are important for me won’t be changed for the worse. Which? You have alway stood up for our rights. It’s never been more important than now. Thank you.

Suzie says:
17 March 2018

Britain voted democratically to Leave the European Union!! Why are so many people & organisations trying to overturn that decision now?? Did they not do their homework before making their decision? Did they not realise there would be a cost for re-claiming our Souvereignty? We joined the Common Market to promote trade between European Countries, not to be dictated to by undemocratically appointed ministers who certainly do not have our best interests at heart!!!

Sadly a third of the voting public, some 13 million people, did not vote at the referendum, and we must ask ourselves why . They were not all fat and too lazy to get off their posteriers. Could it be that they were conned, hoodwinked, lied too, by worthless politicians in pointless televised debates (which all ended in slanging matches) and who quite frankly were clueless as to what was facing the UK. The referendum was a sham, it was the most important matter that this country has ever had to vote upon, and should have been made a compulsory vote, once the public had been educated by experts in all fields. Additionally it should have been opened up to 16 and 17 year olds as it is their future it will affect most.
One could argue that although 17.5 million voted to leave, some 29 million did not !

But here’s the thing. Remainers were all voting to maintain the status quo. Brexiteers cannot seem to all agree on how we should go about leaving.

Very true.

Well there are several other ways of looking at the referendum result.
1) 17.5 million V 16 million – Brexit “we won! Shut up, live with it nah-nah-ni-nah-nah”
2) 37% (a minority) of eligible voters voted leave, 34% (a slightly small minority) voted remain, 29% didn’t vote (why?). Some would argue an inconclusive result.
3) 17.5 out of a total population of 65 million voted leave etc. etc. Similar argument to 2).

Some would also argue that the eligible voters should have included the 16-17 age group as they will have far longer to reap the result than OAP coffin dodgers (my wife and I included B-}) plus those British citizens who are currently resident and working in the EU. Disenfranchising two groups, who arguably had the most to lose, biased the result.

DerekP

I cannot agree with you here. The leavers were told very precisely by Cameron et al that a vote to leave meant that we would leave (ie leave with no qualifications)and Article 50 would be submitted immediately.

So when the vote came through that is what we expected to happen ie the Government would carry out the wishes of the majority.

But what actually happened has been a travesty – instead of an immediately submitting our intention to leave, Cameron resigned and May sat on her hands – the result – parliament became involved and some MPs are working against the result of the referendum.

In a democracy, the people are sovereign – not parliament and if the will of the people is not respected I’m not sure what the result will be. Certainly, it brings into question the future role of parliament and the function of MPs and how this must be changed so that the will of the people cannot be usurped by a small number of individuals who possess neither special knowledge of abilities .

For example, at a general election if the result was to turf out the current majority but before that could happen the defeated majority in parliament said – the people are too dumb and have voted the wrong way – therefore we will stay in power – it would cause a constitutional crisis. In the same way, when the people have voted to leave – with leave meaning we leave – and parliament subverts this – then again we have a constitutional crisis.

It is not the leavers who have changed their minds but the interference of a small number of individuals who arrogantly assume that they have special intelligence and abilities and that they should alone decide on Brexit.

I’m not sure that they even have the sense to realise what they are doing and how our politics will change if they actually succeed in thwarting the will of the people.

Charlie, if you are saying that our progress towards Brexit seems to be a complete mess, then I agree with you on that.

Given the vote to leave, I find it hard to see why we cannot simply just do that.

But I can’t help noticing that a lot of Brexiteers seem to want us to leave without having to give up key benefits of EU membership.

Peter says:
19 March 2018

A very good reason to re run the referendum making the vote compulsory.

Dear Charlie,
Whatever you thought David cameron said, I recommend you to read Referendum Bill Briefing paper to MP’s. It is Number 07212, dated 03/06/15. It makes clear that the referendum was not a vehicle for instructing the government to leave or to remain in in the EU. The 2016 Referendum could have been but that is not what Parliament chose for us to vote on. The Briefing Paper makes clear that past referenda have included minimum majority votes to compel the government to act. This one could have, too but it didn’t. It didn’t have to.
It is a disservice to Parliament and to the people of the UK that this government is treating the referendum as “the will of the people”. It isn’t.
If you agree with holding referenda on complex issues (I don’t) you could argue that we might do well to have a first referendum on remaining or leaving:
Unlike the 2016 version:
The enabling Act of Parliament could compel the government to take us out or keep us in based on the result.
It could have a threshold of say 60% required to change the status quo to avoid making a change without a proper majority. (We did that for the Scottish referendum on membership of the UK.)
It could allow young people to vote
It could allow UK migrants in Europe (i.e. expats) to vote
We didn’t do any of that so why do we keep hearing about “the will of the people”?

John Sanders says:
18 March 2018

We are entering a new globalized world. The rules are changing , finance is failing , populations are increasing beyond available resources. Humanity is effecting change on global scale. This little country may no longer be fit for such changes. Whatever happens the status quo will not be available – try to see Brexit as an opportunity for the early management of our country’s survival in the face of new world order. The EU is an unwieldy mechanism for managing changes – and we are doing it a favour creating new constraints, which may be unpalatable, but must be taken into account. To remain was the recipe for doing nothing, at least Brexit is a chance to change. No one likes change , but is already happening.
Charters and pressure groups are somewhat premature … we need to see how we can change to match a world in which more will compete for less and low overheaded gravy-trains (finance and insurance) are not major economic drivers.

Mark McShane says:
18 March 2018

We were invited to review the Which proposal. It would be useful if members did so and commented on it. The debate around Brexit does not inform comments on the charter.

I have read the charter and for me it seems a wonderful wish list and with a smattering of scare-mongering. To go through it point by point would take some time and not be really worth the effort given the numbers likely to read it perhaps some examples will suffice.

” 2. Choice
There is the opportunity to bring greater choice to consumers.
A key test for our post-Brexit trade policy is whether it maintains or
enhances consumer choice of high quality products and services”

Which sounds great but in actual fact means relatively little other than perhaps preferential butter price from New Zealand etc. If we sign a trade deal with the US then it is very likely under the terms of the deal we would have to accept items that they deem safe. Unfortunately the US is very much behind the EU in such matters.

“4. Price
We know that price and cost are important to the UK consumer,
so post-Brexit policy must limit the potential for unnecessary price
rises and increases in the cost of living.”

What does that actually mean? Capping profits on firms? Examining every price increase to see that it is valid.? Sounds unreal.

There is enough vague talk in here to bewilder anyone and the silliest part is that our Government is pretty powerless to do anything at all other than by negotiation. Providing a wish list is great but this all might be a lot sharper if we simply demanded the enshring of current EU consumer legislation NOW.

Amending it or improving it musut come after the event but as a campaign it is quite simple:
a] Enshrine EU current consumer legislation
b] there are minor tweaks on cooperation on standards and reciprocal arrangements like flying.

Just as a final illustration of wishful thinking
” . Over three-quarters of imported food sold by retailers
originates from the EU . National food and farming policy has been shaped
by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which, despite attempts to reform
it, is focused on supporting producers without tackling important wider
challenges such as enhancing food safety and quality or reducing obesity
rates. As a result, we think the UK having control over farming policy is a
key opportunity to craft a better system for consumers. ”

Sure we are going to leave the EU and suddenly be able to do something on obesity rates that we never could before. Get real. And with 75% of fodd coming from the EU and a dearth of people to pick crops we will continue to be reliant on EU food unless we start paying more for food from our farmers.

“…… craft a better system for consumers ” Rather more than unlikely I think.

Enshrine EU current consumer legislation now would be to the point.

Roger Thomas says:
18 March 2018

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michael says:
18 March 2018

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TonyC says:
18 March 2018

I’ve skimmed through the Consumer Charter and would like to suggest the addition of the following:

i. I would like all EU “protected names” (= appellation contrôlée, etc.) to continue to be enforceable under UK law. For example, if I buy a bottle of sparkling wine labelled “Champagne”, I want the assurance that the wine was actually produced in the Champagne region of France in accordance with the designated quality controls for Champagne.

ii. If I shop in the EU for goods for my own personal use, on my return to the UK, I don’t want customs officers searching through my shopping, prohibiting certain goods and charging me duty on others. If I buy goods in the EU for my own personal use, I would like to be able to pass through UK customs unhindered, as I do at the moment. This applies also to goods that I buy online from suppliers in the EU.

iii. I would like UK driving licences to continue to be accepted in the EU without any additional documentation, such as an International Driving Permit.

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I didn’t join Which many years ago for it to start playing politics. The petition is for members to agree with a charter drawn up before they were consulted so its too late for it to reflect my views! My only democratic option is agree, or don’t sign? (Take it or leave it)

Which appears worried that that our friends in Europe will make things difficult for us after we leave such as air travel? Why would the EU want to make it difficult for UK tourists to spend their euros visiting EU beaches and ski resorts? Scare Mongering?

Reference Consumer Protection – EU law didn’t stop the horse meat scandal nor the current ‘contaminated formula milk’ in France. Germany has shut down its nuclear power stations and is burning brown coal and we receive the contaminated air. Which should be campaigning against this – and the dodgy diesels. American owners of VWs are receiving compensation despite not being in the EU whilst no EU members are? Where is our consumer protection under EU law?

I suppose the response to Brexit is dependent on your view of what life will be like in the EU in say 25 or 50 years.

I hold a very pessimistic view. For the past 60 years or so, all the peoples of Europe have been lied to about the goals of the EU. All along the goal was political – to build a super state.

You might say well this is just another version of the USA, but there is one major difference, in the States, you elect a president, senators and house members. If the electorate does not like what has been done, then they can throw each and every one of them out.

In Europe, we cannot do this, we have a ruling elite that has no intention of submitting itself for election and this allows them to ignore the wishes of their peoples regarding immigration, increasing centralisation of power, the appalling levels of youth unemployment etc etc. At the moment the unelected officials can be kept in check to some extent by the heads of governments of the nation states. However, since the whole objective is to remove the nation states – what will then keep these unelected officials in their place – nothing.

We are all too aware of what happens when people are ruled over by elites who are not subjected to democratic control at the ballot box – and it is very, very unpleasant. In the 20th century, around 100 million people lost their lives at the hands of their own countrymen in China, Russia and Germany.

Mikhail Gorbachev realised this when he said – “The most puzzling development in politics during the past decade is the apparent determination of Western European leaders to recreate the Soviet Union in Western Europe.”

So, as far as I’m concerned the major issue is not whether I pay a little more for a foreign holiday etc etc but whether I live in a free and democratic country or a totalitarian superstate.

In addition, it must be remembered that the imposition by the EU of import duties on food etc means that we pay inflated costs for such staples as food – so although some costs will go up – some others will come down.

Why is it that brexiteers seem so afraid to stop for a while and take stock of the situation now we all know more.
It seems they can’t wait to get to the cliff edge and jump straight off without looking to see how high the fall is. Surely it’s better to stop at the edge look over and see if you can survive the fall.
Once you commit to the jump that’s it, no turning back and only consequences to face. What’s going on here are they all lemmings?

That applies too both for and against ! Think .Think ?

Rubbish!
Not heard a Remainer chanting “We’ve had the vote lets get on with it”. It’s the Remainers who are the “thinkers” and who put the more reasoned arguments.
So I reflect back to you to remove your blinkers and
THINK !

Forget security of employment, prosperity of British companies and pensions will just leak down the drain.
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It is unfortunate that Which has strayed into an area of politics and stirred up a lot of mud. No one knows the outcome of the negotiations with our European “friends”, so presenting our government with a wish list at this time will not help. Wait until the air has cleared and some of the mud settled before approaching the government with your charter, would be more constructive.

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Hi Duncan, can you share the details of this with us, please? The email address converstaion.comments@which.co.uk – I’m not aware of any such trackers, other than ones for our analytics reporting and social media pages. Thanks

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This comment was removed at the request of the user

Hi Duncan, we only remove comments which break our commenting rules. As you well know, we encourage everyone to ensure their comments are on-topic and are delivered in a way that isn’t rude or offensive to others. Thanks 🙂

Hi Lauren,
I think that Duncan does have one point. After brexit, all changes to the law and trade deals should be open and above board. They should be subject to debate in parliament and there should never be any deals done in secret, without public scrutiny. Maybe this could be added to the Charter?

What will happen to mobile phone roaming charges in Europe?

We have the same question, David. If we were to lose free mobile roaming, is this something that would affect you?

The imperative is now very clear that we need to reverse Brexit and to do so by repealing Article 50. This is not ignoring the referendum. That referendum was intended to test public opinion and for the government to take note of it. It was not and is not a binding directive to exit the EU. It is becoming clearer that a little-discussed issue is the one of defence of the UK. The EU has and continues to be a powerful protector of all its members. Since we joined, none of us has been subject to the conflicts which have affected so many of the countries right around the entire perimeter of the EU from North Africa and the unrest north of us.
People may say that NATO will protect us. NATO offers a military protection. How likely is a military action if the UK suffers a real offensive threat? The threat of sanctions to trade and movement however are real and practical measures which the EU has taken and continues to take. It has been totally effective. This is not a time to cast away that protection.
The losses of protection are already becoming clearer in trade, influence on international standards, maintaining and regulations for our products as well as the lack of resources in the NHS and in food production. It was a shame to read of food rotting in our fields recently. How much worse will it be when we face aggression here and in UK territories?

The UK probably offers better defence protection to Europe than they offer us but, in the event of any conflict I think there is no doubt that aid would be forthcoming. “The UK is arguably the EU’s strongest defence power. It is one of only two member states possessing ‘full-spectrum’ military capabilities (including a nuclear deterrent) and one of only five spending 2% of GDP on defence. It also holds a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and has the largest military budget within the EU.” (a view from https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/uk%E2%80%93eu-defence-and-security-cooperation)

“The losses of protection are already becoming clearer ….influence on international standards, maintaining and regulations for our products” There is absolutely no indication that our compliance with, and contribution to, international standards will diminish. We will depend upon compliance with international standards for exports being successful and BSI are a very active contributor to the international standards organisations.

Dear Malcolm r,
I don’t doubt that the UK has been a strong contributor to EU militarily. My point was that military power is of little use when one considers how easy it is to trigger a hot war by responding to force with force. Membership of the EU provides us with the kind of real defence in the form of sanctions across all the trade and political influences that comes with an organisation as large as the EU.
I am a Chartered Engineer I have seen the BSI combine with the European Standards institutions. Our standards are now prefixed BS EN ones as we share the process of joint production and development of standards. The BSI is no longer the organisation it was when we produced and maintained our own standards alongside the German DIN ones and those of the other EU nations. When we leave the European standards will continue to develop without our influence nor our contribution. We shall have to comply with them if we are to export into Europe without EU membership.

EU standards are generally based on ISO ones to which BSI contribute. It is likely BSI will still cooperate with CENELEC and other European organisations. International trade depends upon harmonised standards so it is unlikely we will depart from those as it would prejudice both purchasing and selling. That is my view and I hope I won’t be proved wrong.

BSI say “BSI Statement
Following the triggering of Article 50, BSI will continue to help organizations achieve their goals as we have done for the past 116 years.

For BSI it is business as usual, BSI will remain a full member and influential participant in the single European Standards system as well as an EU Notified Body. BSI will continue to play an important role in helping both British and overseas firms demonstrate product conformity.

As negotiations progress and our discussions with the UK government and other relevant authorities evolve, we will continue to keep you informed on progress on both this page and other communicationshttps://www.bsigroup.com/en-GB/about-bsi/uk-national-standards-body/EUReferendum/

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Your opinion ,others have their opinions too !!

I agree with Patrick’s observations about BS and ISO standards.

ISO standards are usually expected to represent world consensus positions. If practice, this tends to make the ones I work on a bit shallow, so a stand-alone BS standard could be more detailed and prescriptive. But, given the costs of keeping standards up to date, in my work area, we don’t have a lot of interest in keeping old BS standards maintained where acceptable ISO alternatives exist.

On the plus side, getting involved with ISO standards gives me more excuses for collaborating with my peers internationally.

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I also support the UK’s fishermen who have been poorly served by the EU quota system, although it has to be said that the fishing restrictions are leading to a resurgence of certain fish stocks which will benefit us over the longer term. It is purely by dint of a voting fluke that the sea fishing industry had any hope of returning to past times and rebuilding the fleets; had the referendum vote gone the other way – and only a tiny percentage would have needed to change – then there would have been no reprieve for our trawler-men and -women. As it is they have an end in sight even though it won’t occur at the end of March 2019. I would hope that the extra two years will be tolerable and seen as realistic in the circumstances.

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Duncan, sorry to hear about your problems.

I’m sure these modern “too clever by half” systems are designed to foster lower installation costs, e.g. by avoiding the need for any wiring between the boiler and other locations.

That said, I’m sure all the electronics involved will be made down to a price, without out much regard for its subsequent durability or longevity.

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I’m glad your heating is working again, Duncan, but would it be a big job to install a wired room thermostat in place of the wireless one?

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Hi all, can we keep this on the topic of our Brexit charter? Sorry this wasn’t addressed yesterday. Feel free to carry on the conversation on The Lobby.

Duncan, can you tell us more (on The Lobby) what the advertising issue is and I’ll take a look for you. 🙂