There were so many incredible aspects to the Boris Johnson administration’s totally misjudged hard Brexit – none of them good. And the sinister ideological punch of the prime minister and his cabinet on that front has been as predictable as it is ubiquitous.
So you would think that Mr Johnson and his ministers would have more or less lost the ability to surprise now on Brexit. Sometimes, however, their statements still get a double take because they’re so ridiculous.
And it was this week when the Prime Minister, facing a barrage of criticism over a garden party at 10 Downing Street in May 2020 during the first lockdown, retweeted a BBC report on mobile phone users Virgin and O2 in the UK do not face roaming charges in the European Union. These networks are both part of the same group, Virgin Media O2.
Mr Johnson did so with the statement: “I welcome @VirginMedia and @O2’s decision to continue roaming for free, meaning UK citizens can still use their mobile data, calls and texts. throughout Europe at no additional cost.”
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It’s obviously a good thing for UK citizens to be able to use their mobile phone plans across Europe at no extra cost.
However, as Mr Johnson is probably very well aware, holders of mobile phone contracts in the UK were entitled to use their mobile data, call and text plans across the EU at no additional cost until until the country leaves the European single market. They had this valuable right and protection thanks to some very welcome EU regulation. Basically, it wasn’t something at the discretion of the mobile phone companies. And it made life so much easier for UK consumers, who were able to use their allowances as if they were in their home country without worries.
Other major mobile phone providers in the UK were relatively quick to bring back roaming charges for customers visiting EU countries following the single market departure issued by Johnson and co at the end of 2020.
Vodafone, EE and Three have all announced plans to reintroduce charges for UK customers roaming in the EU. It was a disappointment, but not a surprise, given that the Johnson administration offered a hard Brexit that allowed them to do so. And their customers will hopefully understand who allowed the introduction of roaming charges.
It will be interesting to see how this situation evolves in the months and years to come. You wouldn’t imagine that advertised roaming charges would be reduced over time. And, in any case, what is certain is that things will be more expensive and complex for a large number of British citizens traveling in Europe and looking to stay connected. In a world where this communication is increasingly crucial to people’s daily lives, this is a sad step backwards. But such dismal setbacks seem to be a specialty of this British government and the Brexiteers who put it in power, while some Tories and other Leavers seem to yearn for Empire days gone forever.
The demoralizing reality of declining mobile phone roaming is explained by UK telecommunications regulator Ofcom on its website. It says: “As of December 31, 2020, EU rules on roaming charges no longer apply in the UK. This means that, as with other destinations, the amount your mobile operator may charge you for using your mobile phone in EU countries, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein is not more capped.
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Of course, overseas travel for many people in the UK and other countries around the world has been suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic. So announcements by BT-owned Vodafone, EE, and CK Hutchison Holdings’ Three Network about the reintroduction of charges for UK mobile customers roaming in the EU will likely fly under the radar for many.
However, as overseas travel resumes, British citizens will become increasingly aware that previous roaming rights and protections in Europe have been destroyed by Mr Johnson’s Brexit.
Of course, this is just one of the many woes and ills that are befalling UK households, businesses, the economy and society due to the senseless exit from the EU, the single market and the ‘Customs Union.
However, it is a very important thing, affecting a large number of people.
Mr Johnson, with his bizarrely upbeat tweet about the Virgin Media and O2 decision, seemed to hail as some kind of victory that a major mobile player decided to keep things as they were before Brexit . Given the reintroduction of roaming charges by EE, Vodafone and Three, it is important for people to realize that the reality of what Mr Johnson is trumpeting is that a group has made a decision that does not aggravate the damage caused by his hard Brexit.
James O’Brien, author of How Not To Be Wrong: The Art Of Changing Your Mind and presenter on LBC radio station, summed it up nicely. He tweeted: “Massive victory! Some networks remain the same as before Brexit. May the joy not be confined.
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It seems like a truly remarkable thing for Mr Johnson. Again, the alleged benefits promised by Brexiters, which have always seemed quite unbelievable, have failed spectacularly to materialize. So perhaps clinging to straws becomes the only viable option for Brexiters. That certainly seemed to be the case with mad enthusiasm about trade deals with Australia and New Zealand delivering, based on the UK government’s own projections, respective increases in UK gross domestic product on the long term from 0.01% to 0.02%, and 0.00% .
As with so many other statements from the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, Mr Johnson’s tweet on roaming charges once again underlines the fact that so much was so much better and easier before the UK does not leave the single market.