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HUNT

UK wants to ‘remain best friends’ with EU neighbours: Hunt in Berlin

Britain can only avoid a hard Brexit if it reaches a deal with the EU to resolve the Irish backstop issue, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in Berlin during a speech on the two countries' friendship.

UK wants to 'remain best friends' with EU neighbours: Hunt in Berlin
File picture shows UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt on a previous visit to Berlin. Photo: DPA

“This is really the only way through the current situation,” he said in his speech at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in the German capital, adding that pushing back the Brexit deadline would leave both the UK and EU in “paralysis”.

Hunt also talked about how the UK and Germany's relationship transcended all treaties and was “based on something infinitely more important and durable”.

The infamous “Irish backstop” clause provides for Britain to remain in the EU customs union until a way is found — such as a future free trade deal — to ensure that Ireland's border with Northern Ireland remains open.

Resolving the issue would allow the government to gain parliamentary support for the EU divorce deal and also guarantee the 1998 Belfast peace agreement, he predicted.

“If we can make that change, we are confident we can get the deal through” parliament, he said on the day Prime Minister Theresa May was headed back to Brussels to renew her quest to reopen the terms of the Brexit divorce.

Brexiteers in May's own Conservative party see the backstop as a “trap” to keep Britain in a form of union indefinitely, and have demanded a time limit or a unilateral exit clause.

This would be seen in Brussels as a betrayal of EU member Ireland, and it has consistently got short shrift from EU officials.

Moments in history 'transcend Brexit'

In an impassioned speech, Hunt referenced historical moments, saying he thought of the Berlin Blockade, which arose from an attempt by the Soviet Union in 1948-49 to force Western Allied powers to abandon their jurisdictions in West Berlin, when he landed in Tegel airport.

He also mentioned the fall of the Berlin Wall, 30 years ago this year, and how it reminded people “never to take liberty for granted”.

He said these moments in history transcend people, nations and “transcend Brexit as well, however absorbing or challenging that may seem”.

“Whatever treaties or organizations our two countries may join or leave, our friendship is based on something infinitely more important and durable,” said Hunt.

“Britain and Germany cherish the same freedoms, defend the same values, respect the same fundamental laws and face the same dangers. We are bound together not simply by institutions but by the beliefs that inspired the creation of these institutions: democracy, openness, equality before the law regardless of race, class, gender or sexuality.”

Hunt added that trading relationships “have always been the first link between countries and they act as the foundation of all other relations”.

“So none of us should have any doubt that failing to secure a ratified withdrawal agreement between Britain and the EU would be deeply damaging, politically as well as economically,” he said.

Hunt said that in the “vital” weeks ahead,  “standing back and hoping that Brexit solves itself will not be enough. The stakes are just too high.

“We must all do that we can to see that a deal is reached,” he added.
 
'People want to move on'

Hunt, speaking on the question of a possible extension on Britain leaving the bloc, questioned whether that “really solves anything”.

“I think the last thing that people in the UK and indeed the rest of the EU want is Brexit paralysis with this issue hanging over Europe like a shadow,” he said. 

“I think people want to move on and they want to demonstrate that we can have a Brexit that respects the referendum result but also that we remain best of friends with our neighbours in Europe.”

May and the other 27 EU leaders approved a Brexit withdrawal agreement at a summit on November 25th last year, but the British leader's own parliament rejected it on January 15th.

Since then, May and her ministers have repeatedly met EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and their negotiator Michel Barnier to urge them to reopen the text to find a way to appease eurosceptic MPs.

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BREXIT

How roaming charges will hit travellers between the UK and EU in 2022

Trips between Europe and the UK and vice versa may well become more expensive for many travellers in 2022 as UK mobile operators bring back roaming charges. However there is some good news for all EU residents.

People look at their mobile phones.
How travellers between the EU and UK could be hit by roaming charges in 2022 (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

EU ‘roams like at home’ at least until 2032

First the good news. The European Union is set to decide to extend free roaming until 2032, so if you have your phone contract registered in an EU country you don’t have to worry about extra charges.

In addition to waiving the charges, the new regulation aims to ensure that travellers benefit of the same quality of service they have at home when travelling within the EU. If they have a 5G contract, for instance, they should also get 5G through the EU if possible. 

Under new rules, travellers should be given information about access to emergency services, including for people with disabilities.

Consumers should also be protected from prohibitive bills caused by inadvertent roaming on satellite networks when travelling on ferries or aeroplanes.

The final text of the new regulation was provisionally agreed in December. The European Parliament and Council will formally endorse it in the coming weeks.

UK companies reintroducing roaming charges this year

And now the bad news for travellers to the EU from the UK

Customers of UK mobile phone operators face higher fees when travelling in Europe this year, as some companies are bringing back roaming charges for calls, text messages and data downloaded during temporary stays in the EU.

This is one of the many consequences of the UK withdrawal from the European Union. Because of Brexit, the UK is no longer part of the EU’s “roam like at home” initiative which was designed to avoid shocking bills after holidays or business trips abroad.

The EU’s roaming regulation allows people travelling in the European Economic Area (EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) to make calls, send texts and browse the web using their regular plans at no extra cost. Switzerland is not part of the scheme, although some mobile phone providers offer roaming deals or special prices to cover travel in Switzerland.

Under EU rules, if the plan’s allowance is exceeded, the roaming fee is also capped at €0.032 per minute of voice call, €0.01 per SMS and €2.5 + VAT per gigabyte downloaded in 2022 (it was €3 + VAT in 2021). The wholesale price networks can charge each other is capped too.

The regulation was adopted for an initial period of five years and is due to expire on June 30th 2022. But the EU is preparing to extend it for another ten years. This time, however, the UK will not be covered. 

Which UK companies are reintroducing charges?

Three major UK network operators this year will reintroduce roaming charges for travels in the EU.

As of January 6th 2022, Vodafone UK will charge customers with monthly plans started after August 11th 2021 £2 per day to roam in the EU. The amount can be reduced to £1 per day by purchasing a pass for 8 or 15 days. Free roaming continues for earlier contracts, Data Xtra plans and for travels to Ireland.  

From March 3rd 2022, EE will also charge £2 per day to roam in 47 European locations, Ireland excluded. The new policy will apply to plans started from July 7th 2021. Alternatively, EE offers the Roam Abroad Pass, which allows roaming abroad for a month for £10. 

Another operator that announced a £2 daily fee to roam in the EEA, except for Ireland, is Three UK. The charge will apply from May 23rd 2022 for plans started or upgraded since October 1st 2021. The data allowance in monthly plans that can be used abroad is also capped at 12 gigabytes. 

O2 already introduced in August last year a 25-gigabyte cap (or less if the plan’s allowance is lower) to data that can be downloaded for free while travelling in Europe. Above that, customers are charged £3.50 per gigabyte. 

Other mobile operators said they have no intention to bring back roaming charges in the short term, but if won’t be surprising if they do so in the future. 

Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection Policy at UK consumer organisation Which? was disappointed at the changes and urged the UK and EU to “strike a deal on roaming charges” to stop companies “chipping away at the roaming benefits customers have become used to” and “prevent the return of the excessive charges people used to encounter.” 

By law, charges for mobile data used abroad remain capped at £45 per month and consumers can only continue data roaming only if they actively chose to keep spending. 

What about EU residents travelling to the UK?

In the EU, most mobile phone operators seem keen to continue free roaming for travels to the UK, but some have announced changes too.

In Sweden, Telenor aligned UK’s prices to those of non-EEA countries on May 1st 2021 while still allowing free roaming for some plans. 

Another Swedish operator, Telia, ended free roaming with the UK and Gibraltar on September 13th 2021 giving customers the option to access 200 megabytes of data for SEK 99 per day. People travelling to the UK can also buy a weekly pass allowing to make calls, send texts and download 1 GB of data. 

In Germany Telefónica Deutschland and 1 & 1 have extended current conditions for the UK until at least the end of 2022. However companies may keep other options open depending on negotiations with roaming partners. 

A1 Telekom Austria brought roaming charges back for the UK last June. Customers now have to pay €2.49 per minute for outgoing calls and €1.49 per minute for incoming calls if they are in the UK or Gibraltar. An SMS costs 99 cents and each 100 KB of data €1.49. 

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK. 

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