In Depth

How will a no-deal Brexit affect travelling Brits?

UK citizens face delays because of longer immigration checks at EU border posts

Newly released government documents outlining what could happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit have warned of major travel disruption between the UK and EU countries.

The five-page dossier outlining “reasonable worst-case planning assumptions” under Operation Yellowhammer – the government’s no-deal plan – says UK citizens travelling to and from the EU “may be subject to increased immigration checks at EU border posts”, Metro reports.

“Dependent on the plans EU member states put in place to cope with these increased immigration checks, it is likely that delays will occur for UK arrivals and departures at EU airports and ports” it says, warning there could also be passenger delays at St Pancras, Cheriton (Channel Tunnel) and Dover “where juxtaposed controls are in place”.

“This could cause some disruption on transport services,” the document adds, advising that travellers may have to use alternative routes to complete their journey.

Here are some of the important transport issues if we crash out with no-deal.

Will flights be cancelled?

Much of the talk around no-deal Brexit has focused on flights to and from the UK after Britain potentially crashes out.

The Department for Transport insists “if there is no EU Exit deal, flights should continue as today”, although it does advise passengers to check online for the latest travel information and scheduled services from airlines before they leave for the airport.

The European Union has also issued guidance, saying it intends to allow flights from the UK into its airspace. However, it was quick to clarify that this would only extend to “basic connectivity”, meaning “Britain’s exodus from the EU’s Single European Sky initiative could have knock-on implications for air traffic management, significantly affecting airport runway capacities”, says CNN Travel.

Some airlines such as Ryanair have sought to pre-empt post-Brexit confusion by setting up UK-based subsidiaries to get separate UK certification needed if Britain leaves with no deal.

Despite the guarantees and precautions, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in January that “uncertainty for travelers and airlines” remains, arguing that a no-deal scenario could lead to a cap on flights and higher prices.

Will my passport still be valid?

British passports will continue to be valid from beyond a no-deal Brexit until their expiry date, “but will cease to have any power as European Union travel documents” says The Independent’s chief travel correspondent Simon Calder.

The Home Office has said that, in this case, UK citizens would be “considered a third country national”. That means a check on passport validity “with a hidden danger for travellers whose passports expire soon”, says Calder.

Anyone with plans to travel after a no-deal Brexit “has been advised to have at least six months left on their passports, from the date of arrival in the EU,” reports the London Evening Standard.

Click here for further details of how to renew your British passport and how it will be affected by Brexit.

Will we need visas?

In November last year, the European Commission announced that “even in a no-deal scenario, UK travellers can still visit the EU without a visa, providing the same is offered to European citizens visiting the UK”.

As of 2021, British travellers to the continent will have to pay €7 for a travel permit, as part of the European Travel Information and Authorisation Scheme(Etias). This would be similar to the US ESTA visa-waiver system and would require travellers to register their details and pay the fee at least 72 hours prior to departure. The visa waiver would then be valid for three years.

But if the UK fails to secure a deal, “British tourists will be left in legal limbo as the UK will be neither on the list of countries where a visa is required or among those with an exemption”, says The Guardian.

The newspaper says “MEPs fear that British nationals seeking to stay in an EU country for fewer than 90 days could ultimately be required to pay €60 (£52) for a Schengen visa or be left waiting for the completion of bilateral deals before being allowed to travel”.

What about the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)?

About 27 million people in the UK have EHICs. This entitles holders to state-provided medical treatment in the EU and covers pre-existing medical conditions and emergency care.

However, a House of Lords report last year said that, in the absence of an agreement, these rights “will cease after Brexit”.

The BBC adds: “In theory the cover provided by an EHIC would cease to exist, but there could be attempts to put emergency measures in place for UK citizens, or for there to be reciprocal arrangements with individual EU countries. It is unclear at the moment what the outcome might be.”

Will there be customs checks?

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the European Commission has made it clear it would impose full “third-party” country controls on goods entering from the UK.

“For travellers, this means that the present arrangements which allow personal possessions to be taken from the UK to Europe without restriction will end,” says Calder, although “in the opposite direction, theoretically duty-free entitlement would begin again”.

In practice, group trips involving equipment, such as bands and school football teams, may need to undergo special customs formalities.

Will driving licences be affected?

Official government advice says UK drivers may need an international driving permit if they are planning to drive in the EU after a no-deal Brexit.

In terms of motor insurance, “holidaymakers and businesses intending to use their vehicles on the continent, or anyone crossing the Irish border by road, have also been warned they will need a ‘Green Card’ if a deal is not reached”, says the Evening Standard.

Click here for more information about UK driving licences after Brexit.

And mobile roaming?

The EU legislation that bans mobile firms from charging extra for calls and data in Europe will cease if the UK leaves without a deal.

“Mobile phone firms can impose whatever fees they think the market will bear,” says Calder. However, some major providers - including 3, EE, O2 and Vodafone - have already committed to maintaining existing arrangements.

The UK government has also promised to apply a £45-a-month cap on the amount firms can charge for mobile data used abroad, with mandatory alerts as customers approach 80% and 100% of this usage.

What about bringing pets to the EU?

Unlike human passports, pet travel documentation will not be valid for travel to the EU in a no-deal scenario. The BBC says if you want your pet to travel with you, “you will have to contact your vet at least four months before you plan to travel, so you can get the latest advice”.

It adds: “You would have to get your cat, dog or ferret microchipped and vaccinated against rabies before it can travel - it would then need a blood sample to be taken at least 30 days after having the vaccination.”

But… it could also see the return of duty-free travel

There is one ray of sunshine in the otherwise bleak no-deal landscape for travellers. The Treasury has announced that duty-free shopping will be reintroduced for EU countries if Britain leaves the bloc without an agreement.

A no-deal Brexit would mean the UK immediately crashing out of the single market, meaning people shopping in UK airports, ports and international train stations when travelling to the EU will no longer have to pay UK excise duties on alcohol and tobacco.

“As we prepare to leave the EU, I’m pleased to be able to back British travellers,” Chancellor Sajid Javid said. “We want people to enjoy their hard-earned holidays and this decision will help holidaymakers’ cash go that little bit further.”

The Treasury estimates that a bottle of wine bought at Heathrow duty-free could, as a result, be up to £2.23 cheaper.

Holidaymakers will now also be able to bring in limited amounts of alcohol and cigarettes bought at duty-free shops in the EU, saving over £12 on two crates of beer, for example, says The Independent.

However, the news site notes the Treasury’s decision on duty-free shopping will not apply to movements of goods from Northern Ireland to EU member state Ireland, “as EU law does not allow the Irish government to operate duty-free at the land border”.

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