By Richard Wheeler and Alain Tolhurst, Press Association Political Staff
Britons face a “triple whammy tourist tax” over Brexit, Labour has warned.
Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson accused the Government of having “caved” to the “lobbying might of telecoms companies” rather than listen to consumers after it emerged a no-deal Brexit could see roaming charges return for those travelling in Europe.
He argued this, combined with potential visa costs and a fall in the value of the pound, would hit holidaymakers – as well as Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright’s reputation.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Wright said many mobile operators claim to have “no current plans” to change their approach to mobile roaming after Brexit.
He also said the Government intends to ensure the requirements on mobile operators to apply a financial limit on data usage while abroad is retained in UK law, and would be set at £45 for each monthly billing period – the same as the existing limit.
But Mr Watson replied: “He said that mobile phone operators have said they have no plans to raise roaming charges – but he and I both know, and more importantly voters know, what that phrase really means.
“The reason the EU introduced free roaming in the first place was because the telecoms companies could not be trusted to give consumers a fair deal.”
Mr Watson asked Mr Wright to secure binding commitments from the telecoms companies to protect consumers in the event of a no-deal Brexit, also saying: “This is how holidaymakers have been hit by Brexit chaos: one, the value of the pound has plummeted – increasing the cost of family holidays; two, we’re going to have to pay for visas to the EU; three, we’re going to be hit by a Brexit bill to use our mobile abroad.
“If (Mr Wright) doesn’t want to go down in history as the minister for the Tory triple whammy tourist tax, I suggest he takes a different course.”
Mr Wright said it would not be possible for the Government to enforce UK rules and expectations upon EU mobile operators, and urged Labour to back a Brexit deal.
He earlier told MPs in response to an urgent question: “Surcharge-free roaming for UK customers may continue across the EU as now based on operators’ commercial arrangements.
“Leaving without a deal would not prevent UK mobile operators making and honouring commercial arrangements with mobile operators in the EU and beyond the EU to deliver the services their customers expect, including roaming arrangements.
“The availability and pricing of mobile roaming in the EU would be a commercial question for the mobile operators and many mobile operators – including those who cover over 85% of our subscribers – have already said they have no current plans to change their approach to mobile roaming after the UK leaves the EU.”
In the Lords, Labour former minister Lord Rooker warned that consumers were also likely to be “ripped off” when using credit cards in Europe due to a Treasury decision.
Lord Rooker said restrictions on credit card charges under a proposed statutory instrument were only for UK use and a Lords “sifting” committee had been told “it was a conscious decision of the Treasury to allow extra charges on UK citizens using their credit cards in Europe”.
He said: “The idea was to transfer EU law for our citizens on March 29 to be exactly the same on March 30 – and in this case it isn’t. We’re deliberately allowing them to be ripped off and it’s a conscious decision of the Government.”
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport minister Lord Ashton of Hyde denied this, saying: “It isn’t true to say this is a conscious choice to penalise consumers. Inevitably if we aren’t able to participate in the EU harmonisation wholesale prices there are inevitable consequences of that.”
Lord Ashton said the Government was trying to “retain the benefits that we can for consumers that are able to be put into UK law,” bearing in mind the country would no longer be part of the single market.