With fears that a no-deal Brexit will bring cross-border trade to a halt,examines what it will really mean for buyers here.
As the UK continues to lurch uncertainly towards Brexit, the consumer agencies have been busy posting post information about what may be in store for us in a crash-out scenario.
Before we get to that however, it’s worth pointing out that amid all the warnings and anxiety over the approaching economic storm, we did have a little nugget of good news this week.
Irish mobile phone operators have announced that existing roaming rules will not change if the UK exits the European Union without a deal.
For the last two years, the EU’s Roam-like-at-home regime has meant that EU consumers travelling within the union could not be charged out of bundle fees for their voice calls, texts and data use.
The telcos now say that travelling in the UK will not attract additional roaming charges even after Brexit.
These announcements all come in the aftermath of British mobile operators saying that they did not intend to re-introduce roaming charges in the event of a crash-out.
Watch this space however. Mobile operators fought tooth and nail against the removal of roaming charges. It would be no great surprise if they re-emerged in some form after the Brexit dust has settled, if it ever does.
Meanwhile, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has brought out a new bulletin detailing the impact on your consumer rights of a no-deal Brexit.
Let’s look first of all at your rights if you buy from a UK site like Amazon.
The CCPC says that under EU law, if you conclude a contract with a trader in another country and it can be proved that the trader directs his/her commercial activities in your EU member state of residence, the law of the member state where you live applies.
On that basis, courts in Ireland continue to apply EU consumer protection rules even if the trader is based in the UK.
This includes in particular the rules set out in the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, the Consumer Rights Directive, the Unfair Contract Terms Directive, the Consumer Sales and Guarantees Directive, the Price Indication Directive the Package Travel Directive.
Because many UK-based sites do market to us, our rights — which are substantial in this area — are likely to remain unchanged.
Costs however will not. Earlier this month, the UK press reported that Amazon wrote to many of the UK businesses who sell on its site, encouraging them to take significant steps in preparation for a no-deal.
The letter warned that following a crash-out Brexit, cross border trade could grind to a halt — if only temporarily.
Sellers were advised to establish ‘fulfilment centres’ within the EU — warehouses essentially — where four weeks’ inventory could be stored to overcome any logistical issues which might arise post crash-out.
The online giant has also established an English language version of its German site, Amazon.de, again to smooth any possible trading hiccups.
Regardless of how traders seek to keep commerce flowing, the fact remains that if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, buying from an online UK retailer puts the trade in the same category as a US-Irish transaction.
Last summer, the chair of the Revenue Commissioners, Niall Cody told an Oireachtas Committee that the cost profile of these transactions would be so altered that buying online from the UK would no longer make sense.
Currently, when you buy from a trader based outside the EU, and your goods have a customs value (including cost, transport, insurance and handling charges) of €22 or less, you don’t have to pay Customs Duty or Vat.
If the intrinsic value (the value of the goods alone excluding transport, insurance and handling charges) is more than €150, then you will have to pay Customs Duty.
So before ordering from a UK trader — or any other trader based outside the EU — check what Vat or import charges you may have to pay on top of the original cost of the goods.
Seeking legal redress for a consumer issue in the event of a no deal Brexit may also be problematic.
The CCPC says that if you decide to take a trader in the UK to court here, the UK’s withdrawal has no consequences for you as long as the trader has marketed the goods in Ireland.
EU rules continue to apply and allow you to sue the trader here. It makes no difference whether the trader is based in the EU or in the UK. If the UK-based trader has not marketed the goods in Ireland, however, your rights as a consumer will depend on UK law.
While we’re on the subject, a judgment from a court in an EU member state can only be enforced in the UK if a UK court decides to recognise that judgment.
What’s more, it will be far more difficult to settle a dispute out of court with a trader in the UK. After the withdrawal date, EU law on out-of-court dispute resolution and online dispute resolution will no longer apply to the UK.
You’ll no longer be able to use the EU online dispute resolution platform to settle disputes with traders across the water.
Package holidays have long been a source of trouble of consumers.
Whether it’s lost bookings, misleading advertising or car rental, every year, consumer authorities deal with the many things that can go wrong. Similar to other traded goods, if you bought your holiday from a UK based travel agent, your rights will be protected under EU law only if the agent markets here.
If this is the case, the organiser would be obliged to provide insolvency protection for you according to Irish law.
If the travel agency in the UK has not marketed the package holiday in your EU member state, your rights as a consumer will depend solely on UK law.
Supply of medicines
We’ve also had a lot of talk about medicines and the potential for supply problems in the event of a disorderly Brexit.
The CCPC says that in principle, your access to medicines should remain unchanged. However, even the best preparation can’t fully exclude the possibility that there might be a temporary impact on the supply of some medicines.
The bulletin says:
‘The European Commission and the European Medicines Agency are carefully monitoring the situation...In any case, shortages of medicines are unfortunately not rare and already happen for different reasons not related to the UK’s withdrawal. The European Medicines Agency and national regulators are experienced in dealing with this and take the necessary actions so that patients get the right advice about their treatment.’
Rest assured however that the UK’s withdrawal will have no impact on the quality and safety that patients in the EU expect from the medicines they take.
A medicine dispensed by a pharmacy or administered by a doctor in an EU Member State after the withdrawal date will be no different in quality, safety and efficacy from medicines dispensed or administered before the UK’s withdrawal.