Mobile roaming and Brexit

Last updated 15 July 2020

Relevant policy:

Multiple policies on cross-border roaming.

The Mobile Roaming (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Roaming is part of the Digital Single Market strategy.

Progress and developments:

In February 2017 the European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons requested further clarification from Government on these questions:

We note the Minister’s previously expressed view that “UK consumers will experience a period of free regulated roaming before the UK’s exit from the EU”. We ask that the Minister clarify whether he is persuaded that the UK will not be able to retain surcharge-free roaming throughout the EU after Brexit, and explain the basis of his assessment.

We also note EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger’s assessment that WTO rules mean that continued UK-EU surcharge-free roaming arrangements could only be concluded in the context of a comprehensive Free Trade Deal. We ask the Minister to clarify whether he concurs with this assessment, or whether he believes that a bilateral deal to maintain surcharge-free roaming between the UK and the EU (including caps on wholesale roaming charges) could be concluded outside the scope of a Free Trade Agreement.

We request an assessment of the implications of non-participation in the EU-wide abolition of roaming surcharges for different groups of UK stakeholders (e.g., consumers, businesses, mobile operators).

On 29 March the Committee refused to clear the policy from scrutiny on the grounds that the answers received from Government did not answer the questions. They have requested clarifications by May.

In April received the answers they sought from Government, and noted that

Neither of these points make a persuasive case that it will be legally possible for the Government to ensure that current UK-EU roaming arrangements are retained through the Great Repeal Bill, as the Minister has previously suggested: the rules which underpin surcharge-free roaming in the EU are reciprocal in character, as they limit the fees operators in EU Member States can charge each other when their consumers use roaming services on their respective territories, and reciprocal effects of this kind can only be achieved through bilateral agreements. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we conclude that the Government will not be able to ensure the continuation of reciprocal roaming arrangements through the Great Repeal Bill.

In other words, it is the Committee’s opinion that the UK’s time without roaming charges across Europe will be very brief.

The EU Committee of the House of Lords also drew attention to roaming issues post-Brexit in March.

In September 2018 Government published guidance on roaming in the event of a “no deal” Brexit, which touches on the joyous issue of what will happen if you’re near the Irish border and your call is pinging between masts on both ides.

In February 2019 the draft Mobile Roaming (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 were laid before Parliament. This revokes the requirement on UK mobile operators to offer European roaming after Brexit, allows them to reinstate roaming charges, and obliges them to alert users when a cap of £45 has been reached. The regulation passed the vote on 6 March.

In April 2019 government published an updated fact sheet on post-Brexit roaming issues.

In May 2020 the EC confirmed that following the end of the transition period, roaming charges may well return when UK residents are travelling in Europe.