Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’re bound to be aware of the major ways that Brexit has affected Brits across Europe.
In the run-up to Britain’s exit from the single market, UK citizens have had to register with immigration offices or apply for new residency permits. People have had to exchange UK driving licences whilst many have through their own choice applied for citizenship of an EU country.
Less than a week after the end of the transition period, however, it’s becoming clear that Brexit is more than just an headache and hurdle for residency.
Whether it’s sending a belated Christmas gift to relatives in Britain or picking up snacks from the supermarket, Brexit is already affecting daily lives of Britons in several small but significant ways.
In an occasion reminiscent of the great Marmite shortages of 2016, a number of fresh food imports from the UK have been diverted from their EU destinations, reducing the availability of certain beloved British food products in supermarkets across the continent.
At an M&S food hall in Paris’ Porte Maillot, one shopper lamented the “great M&S post-Brexit sandwich famine of 2021” as they were greeted by empty shelves when they came to pick up their groceries. The shortages have hit a number of M&S stores across the French capital, apparently due to issues with UK deliveries.
“Because of new government regulations on trade between the UK and France, we received no shipments from the UK today,” a sign in French informed shoppers.
“I rely on M&S for the curry boxes,” one Paris resident said on Twitter. “Please tell me they still stock the curry boxes and the salt and vinegar crisps.”
The UK government has spent months promising frictionless trade with the EU after Brexit, but while UK businesses may be able to export to the EU with zero tariffs under the new trade deal, the bureaucratic obstacles for exporters have increased significantly.
In particular, anyone bringing animal products such as meat and dairy into the EU will now need a veterinary certificate to prove that the food conforms to EU regulations. Certificates are also needed to being animal products from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.
According to Stena Line ferries, some exporters immediately fell afoul of the new rules. On the January 1st – the day after the end of the Brexit transition – six freight loads of stock headed for Ireland were turned away from the port of Holyhead in Wales due to not having the correct paperwork.
In 2017, just a year after the Brexit vote, the UK government boasted in a press release that it had received a “Brexit boost” to its food exports, with the sector netting £22bn for the UK economy over the course of the year. However, four of the country’s five top export destinations that year – the Netherlands, Germany, France and Ireland – were all EU member states, accounting for almost half (£9bn) of this total.
To make matters worse, at least four of the country’s major food exports – salmon, shellfish, cheese and chocolate – are perishable, animal-derived products, meaning Brits in the EU may be seeing a lot more Irish cheddar and Norwegian salmon on the shelves this year, rather than their British counterparts.
I stream, EU stream
Anyone hoping to pass the long winter lockdown and ease their Brexit woes with some classic episodes of Only Fools and Horses may just be disappointed when they log in to their streaming sites this January.
Since the start of 2021, Britain’s exit from the ‘digital single market’ means that Brits have been unable to access to their favourite British shows on streaming services such as Sky and Amazon Prime while living or travelling in the EU.
On Sky’s website, the company warned users: “From 1 January 2021, you won’t be entitled to stream Sky outside the UK using your Sky Go, Sky Kids, Sky Sports, Sky Sports Mobile TV and Sky Sports Box Office apps.”
The service previously enabled users with a Sky account to access content on their tablets and phones while travelling with the European Economic Area (EEA), which includes EU countries as well as Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.
Amazon Prime, which also offers streaming services, informed Brits in December that “UK customers such as yourself will no longer have access to the full UK catalogue while travelling to EU countries.”
The changes are all down to the revocation of the EU Portability Regulation – a law enabling digital content such as television programmes to be accessed throughout the EEA.
A note on the UK government website explained: “The EU Portability Regulation will cease to apply to UK-EEA travel from 1 January 2021. In the UK, the regulation will be revoked.
“Online content service providers will not be required under the regulation to provide content ordinarily available in the UK to a UK customer who is temporarily present in any other EEA member state.
“This will not prevent service providers offering cross-border portability to their customers on a voluntary basis, but to do so they will need the permission of the owners of the content they provide.”
For Netflix customers, however, things will remain very much the same as before. They will still be able to access its content anywhere in the world, but content will be localised to each country, meaning that French content will be available in France, German content in Germany, and so on.
In reality European Netflix sites have a large amount of Hollywood blockbusters and other English-language content, but their titles are often translated into the local language so you will need to look more carefully as you scroll.
Deliveries and VAT faffs
Thanks to the UK no longer falling within the EU postal zone, sending a parcel to friends or family back home has just become a lot more expensive.
In Germany, for example, delivery firm DHL has now moved the UK into a new zone alongside Switzerland, with the price for sending small to medium packages rising from €4 to €10. The cost of posting larger parcels is now as much as €17.
In addition, anyone sending goods to or from the UK will now have to fill in a customs declaration stating what their parcel contains, the value of the contents, and where the items were originally produced.
For online sellers and marketplaces such as eBay, things have become more complicated still: under the UK’s new VAT rules, either EU sellers or UK buyers will now have to pay UK VAT on items shipped to Britain, depending on the cost of the product. For sales under £135, the tax burden will fall on sellers, while UK residents will be liable to pay the tax on more valuable items over £135.
According to the Financial Times, the added bureaucracy is already causing “chaos” for e-commerce businesses and their customers. Speaking to FT reporter Chris Giles, one Dutch bicycle parts company called the changes “ludicrous”, adding that they “would now ship to every country in the world… except the UK”.
Scandinavian Outdoor, a clothing and equipment retailer based in Finland, halted sales to Britain altogether.
“Ordering will be possible as soon as our UK VAT-registration and the overall process of selling to the UK post-Brexit has been sorted out!” says a message on its website.
Many shipping companies have begun passing on extra administrative costs to clients, including France's La Poste, which has added “supplemental fees” for e-commerce retailers that can be passed on to clients.
Many users in the EU have reported that smaller UK-based sites are simply no longer shipping to Europe.
Upmarket British retailer Fortnum & Mason have had to suspend deliveries to European countries much to the dismay of some customers in the EU.
The company blamed the decision on “Brexit restrictions”.
Hello Julia, Thank you for contacting Fortnum & Mason. At this current time, due to Brexit restrictions, we are unable to send any products to European countries. If this changes at anytime we will inform our customers as soon as possible.
Thanks, [email protected]
— Fortnum & Mason (@Fortnums) January 6, 2021
Whilst much of the recent chaos around travel from the UK to the EU has been linked to a new variant of Covid that has run wild in the UK, Brexit has helped create a perfect storm of almost pandemonium with stories of Britons denied re-entry to their home countries in the EU because they had the wrong residency card.
British embassies have tried to act to ensure EU immigration officials allow Britons to return home but if The Local's email inbox is anything to go by, the travel problems and concerns will persist for weeks if not months to come.
Some British residents in the EU who don't have a post Brexit residency permit or indeed any residency permit face having to gather to gather a file of evidence including bills and tax receipts to prove to immigration officials where they live. Many are simply foregoing travel altogether for fear of not being allowed home.
Hundreds of British residents have had their passports stamped with an entry date. Despite British officials telling them not to worry, there are concerns this stamp will cause issues, given that British travellers can only stay in the Schengen area for 90 days in every 180-day period.
Free to roam?
Since leaving the single market at the end of last year, the UK is no longer included in the the EU’s Roaming Regulation – the 2017 law that enabled customers to use their existing mobile contracts for free across Europe. In theory, this means that roaming charges could be hiked up for EU-based Brits who still have a UK SIM card – but this seems unlikely to happen overnight.
At the start of the year, the UK’s major phone operators – Three, EE, 02 and Vodafone – revealed they had no plans to reintroduce roaming costs across the EU as a result of Brexit.
“Our customers enjoy inclusive roaming in Europe and beyond, and we don't have any plans to change this based on the Brexit outcome,” a spokesperson for EE told the BBC. “So our customers going on holiday and travelling in the EU will continue to enjoy inclusive roaming.”
Nevertheless, there are early signs that these operators will be getting a lot stricter about their fair usage policies, which state that UK customers should be ‘roaming’ for no more than 62 days in a four-month period.
A number of Vodafone customers in the EU have allegedly received messages from the company warning them not to exceed this limit.
“Up until now, we’ve only monitored usage abroad and not applied extra charges to customers who use their phone abroad for long periods of time (or even permanently),” the company said. “However, unfortunately we now need to apply charges if you use your phone abroad for a prolonged period of time.”
From January 18th, the network provider plans to send text or email alerts to long-term roamers if they run over the 62-day limit. After this, customers in the EU could be liable for extra charges.
Collies crossing the Border
With the UK no longer participating the EU Pet Passport scheme, four-legged friends travelling from the UK to the EU will now need an Animal Health Certificate (AHC) from an accredited vet in order to make it across the border. Unlike the Pet Passport, a new AHC is required for each trip.
However, travelling from the EU to the UK with a pet will be less complicated (for now), since the UK has said it will continue to accept EU pet passports issued before January 2021 for the time being. This means anyone with a valid Pet Passport can still travel to Britain with little trouble, as long as their pet is microchipped and vaccinated against rabies.
This could, however, be subject to change in the future.