In Depth

Brexit: return of roaming charges to cost business travellers £778 a month

Britain will need to strike special deal to avoid extra charges after UK leaves digital single market

British business travellers working in Europe after Brexit could face extra costs of £778 a month with the return of data roaming charges.

Theresa May has announced the UK will leave the ‘digital single market’ when it leaves the bloc, meaning fees for using international data within the EU, which were axed last year, could be set to return for British travellers.

Without a deal in place to avoid roaming charges, the House of Commons library has calculated the financial hit for business traveller could soar to £778 if foreign mobile companies ramp up the price for local firms to use their network and if those carriers then push up the cost for their customers to the maximum allowed before the cap.

These fees are far higher than the £61 top-up run-up by holidaymakers because business people consume an average of 4.5GB for a typical six days abroad each month.

The government is hoping to strike a special deal with the EU to avoid a return of roaming charges after Brexit, but “it is widely assumed that will be difficult outside the digital single market, whose purpose is to eliminate digital regulatory barriers between EU member states”, says The Independent.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has admitted arrangements on mobile roaming “would be subject to any negotiations” but stressed Vodafone and Three had already committed not to reimpose charges after the UK leaves the bloc.

Unsurprisingly, anti-Brexit groups have seized on the latest figures. The Best for Britain group, who helped compile the study, said it showed “the reality of the decision to leave the European Union is dawning”.

While pro-EU Labour MP Alex Sobel told the Independent the cost of a hard Brexit on British travellers is becoming “abundantly clear”.

“Not only will they suffer longer queues as hard borders take effect, but they will be hit in the pocket with the return to the roaming charges that were recently outlawed by the EU”, he added.

Business groups have also spoken out against extra costs borne by British workers abroad with Mike Spicer, director of research at the British Chambers of Commerce, saying businesses wanted “answers to practical questions they face when conducting business in Europe” before warning of additional “unnecessary” costs of doing business overseas.

Britain is set to leave the EU in just over a year’s time, on 29 March 2019, although it is unclear whether roaming fees would return immediately or at the end of the proposed 21-month transition deal which effectively keeps the UK in the EU single market until December 2020.

Roaming charges may return for UK customers

7 March

Fears are growing that mobile phone roaming charges will be reintroduced for UK customers after Brexit unless a deal can be struck.

Brits paid a total annual average of £350m to use their phones in other European countries before the additional fees were scrapped in June last year. All customers in the EU can now call, send texts and photos, and use mobile data for the same rates they pay at home.

But in her Mansion House speech last week, Theresa May confirmed that Brexit will include leaving the EU’s Digital Single Market (DSM), which aims to reduce digital regulatory barriers between member states.

“This is a fast evolving, innovative sector, in which the UK is a world leader,” said the Prime Minister. “So it will be particularly important to have domestic flexibility, to ensure the regulatory environment can always respond nimbly and ambitiously to new developments.” 

Last year, a leaked report from the European Parliament warned that UK customers will pay extra unless the British government strikes a favourable deal with the EU after it leaves the bloc.

Until last week, May had not confirmed that Britain would be withdrawing from the DSM, Sky News reports.

The Government has now indicated that failure to strike a deal is likely to entail the restoration of roaming charges.

A spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport told Sky News: “The Government is committed to securing the best deal for British consumers.

“Arrangements on mobile roaming would be subject to any negotiations, however, a future partnership between the UK and EU is clearly in the interests of both sides.”

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