Cutting roaming prices might just be the EU’s most popular policy. Consumer-friendly caps on phone surcharges have slashed the cost of calling, texting and browsing when you are travelling in the EU. Everyone from David Cameron to the Daily Mirror cites them as a benefit of EU membership.
As of next year, surcharges in the EU will disappear altogether. The government calls this a “UK-led victory”, saving British consumers £350 million a year. But this week, travel agents’ body ABTA suggested Brexit might put those protections in jeopardy.
In reality, they seem likely to stick. Whether those roaming rules apply post-Brexit depends on the deal we get. If we end up looking like Iceland or Norway, they would apply; if we end up like Switzerland or Turkey, they wouldn’t.
UK digital economy minister Ed Vaizey has suggested limits on roaming charges would be included in a post-Brexit package. That makes sense, as such an arrangement seems in the interest of both British travellers and EU citizens visiting the UK. While the telecoms industry dislikes EU roaming rules, it is unlikely to put up too much of a fight.
That said, Brexit might hurt your mobile deal in other ways. Operators could find it harder to work efficiently across borders. A spokesperson for Vodafone said the carrier believed that “EU membership offers benefits of economies of scale and that further market fragmentation would be unhelpful”. Vodafone reckons it is in the interests of UK customers, shareholders and the company itself to stay in the EU.
If it left, the UK might also miss out on the next generation of pro-consumer digital laws. Last year, the EU Commission proposed new rules on the “portability of online content” – making it easier to use services like Netflix or the BBC iPlayer while in Europe. Brexit might exclude the UK from such benefits – and would certainly deny us a say in defining them.
Edited by Alan Wheatley