One of the most irritating things in our lives used to be being clobbered with a bill for the audacity of going on Instagram while on holiday in Europe. The European Union, for all, its faults, got rid of those in 2017.
Now the nuisance is going to return, at least for some – seemingly a consequence of the terms of the UK-EU trade treaty in the wake of the Brexit vote. Travel across this shared continent of ours is going to get a bit more troublesome in future, and long after Covid-19 and quarantines are a bad memory.
EE will charge new customers – those signing up from July – £2 a day to use their allowances in 47 European destinations from January 2022.
So, just as the more ardent of the Brexiteer community are celebrating what Nigel Farage terms “Independence Day” with English sparkling wine and a throaty rendition of our new national anthem “One Britain, One Nation, One Buffoon Running It” (or something like that), along comes this.
O2 have also sent another unwelcome message: you will be billed £3.50 for every gigabyte of data used above a new limit of 25GB, from August during EU travel. Granted, 25GB is not an insignificant amount of data – the company says "less than 1 per cent" of pay monthly customers “reach anywhere near” that amount during trips to Europe – but O2 customers are unlikely to be pleased.
As with so much that is happening and going wrong with Brexit now, it’s because the original agreement contained vague and well-meaning phrases about “transparent and reasonable rates” that, in the end, mean little. Just like the Northern Ireland protocol, fishing, legal and financial services, the political rush to “get Brexit done” in those frantic, chaotic weeks of 2019 has left us all with a mess to clear up. Boris Johnson we can blame, because his attitude, as usual, was “sign the accursed things now and we’ll sort it out later”.
As will no doubt be pointed out, no one put “Brexit Means Roaming Charges Will Be Back” on the side of a bus in the 2016 referendum, but it was the sort of issue the Remain campaign probably should have, because it is the kind of thing that brings home the practical costs of securing this amorphous, elusive thing called “sovereignty”.
No country has ever been able to exercise complete control over its own affairs in reality, and there are always compromises and the ceding of power in any international arrangement including the trade deals now being negotiated with Australia, India, America and the rest.
Maybe the roaming and telecoms charges clauses in those deals will be more advantageous to British travellers, or maybe not. Like your data allowance, there are limits to what you’re able to do.