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17 July 2020

How the government quietly revealed all the ways in which Brexit will make our lives worse

The first time many people will notice the cost of leaving the EU is when they eventually plan their holidays next year. 

By Jonn Elledge

It’s mid-July. In the normal course of events, schools would be breaking up and many people would be looking forward to their holidays, but this is the plague year, so instead we’re all watching 55-year-old babies having tantrums about masks, and wondering whether the rain will hold off long enough to make it worth a trip to the park. The whole concept of holidays feels like an artefact of another age.

Which is probably why a terrible new government website is getting a mere fraction of the opprobrium it deserves. “The UK transition” site encourages the public to “get ready for new rules” governing Britain and its borders from 31 December (when the 11-month Brexit transition period ends). And the main thing you need to get ready for, it turns out, is that the future is going to be shit.

Consider. One section of the site allows you to “Check what you need to do to travel to Europe from 2021”. For the last three decades, of course, you’ve not needed to check very much at all: make sure that you’ve got your passport, and ideally your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), and that’s it, you’re pretty much done with your checklist. In the future, alas, those checks will take rather longer.

For one thing, your EHIC, which guarantees you state healthcare anywhere else in the EU, will stop working on 31 December. After that, the government helpfully advises, it’ll be “particularly important” to read the smallprint of your travel insurance, “because the EHIC scheme covers pre-existing conditions, while many travel insurance policies do not”. In other words, just so long as you do some research, and then stump up an unspecified quantity of cash, travelling in Europe after Brexit will be only slightly more difficult than it was when we were in the EU.

There’s more. At border control, the government informs us, “You may have to show your return ticket” and “show you have enough money for your stay”. In the past, of course, freedom of movement meant you could go where you wanted in Europe, no questions asked, but never mind, I’m sure this will be just as good. 

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You’ll have a lot of time to sort out all this extra paperwork if you’re travelling with a dog, of course. For the last few years, so long as he’s had his jabs, you’ve been able to take your good boy with you on travels around the continent thanks to the wonder of a pet passport. From 1 January, however, this will no longer be valid, and “you will need to follow a different process, which takes four months”. Anyone making travel plans four months in advance at this moment in time is feeling more optimistic about the future than I am.

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And then, my personal favourite of all the headings on this page: “Mobile roaming: free roaming may end”. Since 2017, EU law has forced your mobile provider to allow you to use your UK minutes abroad. This has been great for the sort of people who don’t enjoy getting £100 phone bills just because they accidentally clicked on Google Maps, which is pretty much everybody. So huzzah.

Alas, this, too, has been stuffed by Brexit, and the guarantee of free mobile roaming will also end with the arrival of 2021. But the government, with the chutzpah of a man trying to convince you that, okay, you’ve lost your leg, but at least you’ll save money on shoes, does cheerfully note that, “A new law means that you’re protected from getting mobile data charges above £45 without you knowing”. You’ll still have to pay more if you want to keep using your phone, you understand: you’ll just have to opt in first. Probably what actually happens is you’ll end up with an only slightly infuriating bill and then realise you don’t have phone or internet for the rest of the week.

This is without even getting into the fact you no longer have the right to live or work in the EU, and that if your business imports or exports goods to Europe, the amount of paperwork required to do it is about to go through the roof. All this may seem small in the context of a global pandemic that has already cost upwards of 65,000 Britons their lives. But it’s nonetheless true that, in a dozen tiny ways, Brexit is going to make our lives worse, and the first many people are going to know of this is when they come to plan their holidays next year.

What benefits we’re meant to be getting in exchange for all this is something on which the government has yet to launch a website. To coin a phrase we’re hearing so often it’s starting to verge on cliche: I don’t remember any of this on the side of a bus.