We only just escaped overseas phone charges – Brexit will bring them back again

What leaving the digital single market means for consumers. 

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

There are so many things which we can take for granted in 2018 – being able to travel abroad in the EU and use our phones at the same rates we would do at home, making purchases online from other EU countries and getting a delivery the following day without even thinking twice about it. This is one of the huge advantages of being inside the single market, in particular the digital single market, which the government have decided to take us out of, as part of their Brexit plans. But do any of us actually want to leave the digital single market and how will this decision impact on us?

Since the Brexit vote, EU single market rules have changed. Last year, this meant the abolition of the once-annoying roaming mobile phone charges. In the past, going abroad for a holiday, to visit family or even for work, most of us would think twice before switching on our phones for the fear of eating up loads of mobile data and being welcomed home with a massive mobile phone bill. Now we can use our phones across so much of the rest of Europe as if we hadn’t even left the UK.

Need to call a taxi in order to get back to your hotel in Barcelona? Not a problem – no additional costs. Need to quickly check your e-mails whilst on the way to an important meeting in Frankfurt and there is no wifi connection? Not a problem – no extra cost. Want to call your family and see how they’re doing, whilst on holiday in Greece? Not a problem – no extra cost. 

Or what if you want to order something online and the only website that is selling is based outside of the UK, somewhere else in the EU? Currently, vendors can discriminate based on location. Under new “anti geo-blocking” rules which will come into force later this year, that will no longer be permitted. This means, that if a website asks you to provide an address in order to a make shipment, it is perfectly OK for you to provide an address anywhere in the EU or EEA. Is your company looking for a certain washing machine component, which you have discovered is only available through a web-based company in Munich? No longer a problem, your UK address cannot be used as an excuse not to deliver to you. Looking to buy merchandise to the latest indie rock group festival in Copenhagen? No longer a problem – your UK address cannot be used as an excuse not to deliver to you. Looking to get an online delivery of specialised cooking utensils for your restaurant, only available from Milan? No longer a problem, your UK address cannot be used as an excuse not to deliver to you.

Unfortunately, thanks to Brexit and the government’s plans to take us out of the single market and in particular the digital single market, these benefits for consumers and businesses will be called into question. 

While individuals and companies across the rest of the EU will be able to continue to have these great options open to them post-Brexit, the UK will be left behind. It will be a return to the bad old days of desperately having to find a wifi hotspot to check your e-mails while on holiday, or not wishing to ever make or receive a call due to fears over spiralling costs. And those cool T-shirts you wanted to order from that trendy Estonian online store to a UK address? Forget about it.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we all feel that what Brexit will lead to will be an unacceptable outcome for UK consumers and businesses, then we are all entitled to change our minds.

Thomas Cole is head of policy at Open Britain.

Free trial CSS