Can Boris Johnson win over Germany during Brexit talks?

Probably not, but he’s going to try anyway.

Can Boris Johnson win over Germany during Brexit talks?
Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA

Boris Johnson is set to meet European leaders this week as he embarks on his first trip abroad since becoming UK prime minister in July.

And, according to media reports, Johnson is expected to use his trip to urge German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as France's President Emmanuel Macron, to restart negotiations in a bid to avoid a no-deal Brexit, and to inform them that the British parliament cannot reverse the outcome of the Brexit referendum.

He is expected to visit Merkel in Berlin on Wednesday and lunch with Macron in Paris is scheduled for Thursday, ahead of the G7 summit of world leaders in Biarritz.

“Johnson is expected to tell them that they have two months to agree a deal acceptable to the cabinet and parliament, without which the UK will exit without an agreement on Halloween,” said the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

READ ALSO: New law set to guarantee Brits residency in Germany in case of no-deal Brexit

Merkel had invited Johnson to visit Berlin following his appointment as PM.

However, it is unlikely Merkel will stray far from the agreed line when it comes to Brexit. Up to this point, the EU has refused to start new Brexit negotiations with Johnson, saying that a deal had already been struck with Johnson's predecessor Theresa May.

That deal has been rejected by the British parliament on three occasions, leading to the resignation of May. 

Last week Merkel did, however, speak out over the importance of close ties between the UK and the bloc with regards to a future trading relationship. Germany is currently in a tough position, with suggestions that a recession is on the horizon.

During a meeting in Lithuania, Merkel said she had made clear “that we want a withdrawal that will at the same time yield a close partnership between Britain and EU member states”.

'High probability of no-deal'

It came after internal documents revealed on Friday that the German government believes there is a “high probability” of a no-deal Brexit on the October 31st deadline. In the paper, the government said it is “inconceivable” that Johnson will soften his tough position on the Irish backstop. 

The assessment of the situation was made in an internal Finance Ministry document which underlines the German government’s firm opposition to any re-negotiation of the withdrawal agreement as demanded by Johnson.

Meanwhile, according to a report in the Sunday Times sourced from leaked documents, the UK government expects shortages of food, medicine and petrol in the event no withdrawal agreement is struck.

As The Local has reported, Germany has been stepping up its preparations for a no-deal. In this scenario, British people living in Germany would assume the status of Third Country Nationals, similar to citizens from countries that are neither members of the EU nor of the EEA.

However, the German government plans to bring in legislation that guarantees all British people and their family members living in Germany will receive residence permits if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal.

British nationals have also been warned by the British Embassy in Germany to prepare for the possibility of a no-deal. They've been urged to register with their local immigration office (Ausländerbehörde).

The German government has repeatedly said that no Briton will be asked to leave Germany in the event no agreement is struck.

If no withdrawal agreement is in place by October 31st, Germany plans an initial transition period of three months, which will likely be extended by a further six months. This will give Brits more time to apply for a residence permit to ensure they can stay in the future.

READ ALSO: Brexit limbo: How Brits in Germany are trying to secure their futures

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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.