In June 2017, the EU banned additional charges for roaming for people travelling to another EU country. This meant that UK mobile operators couldn’t charge their customers roaming costs when holidaying in the EU. However, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in March 2019 means that roaming charges might be reintroduced because EU regulations like these will no longer apply.
Many are fearful that Brexit will mean a return to the situation of the past, when travellers could unintentionally rack up phone bills in the hundreds of pounds after a few searches on Google Maps and uploading a holiday photo album onto Facebook. For business users, conference calls, contact with the office and replying to emails on the go could cost more than the trip itself.
Could these extortionate roaming charges come back after Brexit?
In theory, yes. But not straight away.
When the UK leaves the EU on 29 March next year, it will leave with a withdrawal agreement in place. This means that all EU rules and regulations will still apply until the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.
The European regulation that prohibits roaming charges will no longer apply on New Year's Day 2021 because it will not automatically become UK law. UK mobile operators could potentially reintroduce roaming charges from then onwards. Not the best news to wake up to on New Year’s Day, especially if your business has staff regularly travelling across Europe.
However, the government could feasibly introduce a similar regulation into UK law, prohibiting mobile operators from charging roaming fees to British customers.
Alternatively, a future UK-EU deal may see Britain and the EU mutually agree to keep the current legislation.
UK operator’s plans after Brexit
If no deal is reached and the government doesn’t introduce a regulation banning roaming charges on the continent, what will happen is up to the operators. However, just because they might be allowed to reintroduce roaming charges doesn’t mean they’ll do so.
In fact, comments from operators seem to suggest otherwise, although at this stage nothing is set in stone.
Three told the BBC in August that they’re “committed to maintain the availability of roaming in the EU at no additional cost following Brexit.” At the same time, O2 commented to the BBC that, “We currently have no plans to change our roaming services across Europe. We're engaged with the government with regards to what may happen once the UK officially leaves the EU.”
As with most things that could change due to Brexit, because there’s no deal agreed upon between the EU and the UK, it’s unclear what will eventually happen.
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