Brexit: EU mobile roaming charges could return overnight after no deal, government admits

Ministers ‘cave to lobbying might of telecoms companies’, Labour deputy leader Tom Watson says

Tom Embury-Dennis
Friday 08 February 2019 09:00 GMT
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Expensive European Union mobile roaming charges could return overnight for British tourists in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the government has admitted.

Culture secretary Jeremy Wright formally announced the government had rejected a proposal to maintain a ban on roaming fees if it fails to reach a deal with Brussels.

It came a day after the news was revealed in secondary legislation laid before parliament.

Roaming charges have been banned in the EU since 2017, saving holiday makers and business travellers millions of pounds a year in extra charges for using their smartphones in the 27 nation bloc.

In response to an urgent question from Labour, Mr Wright told the Commons the government would ditch the regulation, since it was unable to prevent European network providers from charging UK providers additional fees for their customers’ internet use after Brexit.

“Now that money has to be paid by somebody and if we are saying to the mobile network operators in this country that they may not pass it on to customers who are roaming, they will undoubtedly pass it on to all their other customers instead,” he said.

Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, said the government and Mr Wright had caved “to the lobbying might of telecoms companies, rather than listen to the voice of consumers who are set to lose out”.

In a note accompanying the secondary legislation – first reported by the Huffington Post – the government admitted it ignored the pleas of consumer groups to keep the current arrangements and had instead “decided not to adopt this proposal”.

It added UK operators had “raised concerns” that limiting roaming costs for customers “would affect the sustainability of certain roaming services. This means that roaming services could be removed altogether from some customers.”

Mr Wright said regardless of the new legislation, operators that provided services to 85 per cent of British consumers had said they would not bring back roaming charges for travel in the EU.

Last week however, consumer website MoneySavingExpert reported at least 10 firms making up 85 per cent of UK mobile users had only said they have “no plans” to change their roaming policies and would not rule out the return of charges.

Only two providers, Three and its sub-brand Smarty, have categorically ruled out additional costs for its customers travelling in Europe.

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Mr Wright said the government would legislate for retaining limits for using data abroad, currently set at £45 for each monthly billing period.

Operators would also have to inform customers when they reach 80 per cent and 100 per cent of their data usage allowances, he said, adding that they would have to warn users about the risks of inadvertent roaming – for example, on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

There could also be changes affecting roaming for EU visitors to Britain, a committee paper for the European Parliament said in September.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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