Brexit and Consumer Rights: Should we be worried?

By the time you read this the UK will either have left the European Union without a ‘withdrawal’ agreement (a ‘no-deal Brexit’), left with a withdrawal agreement or have had departure suspended while negotiators look to dot i’s and cross t’s. As this piece is being written it is impossible to tell where we are and where, in consumer rights terms, we will end up.

The Government has put great store on passing a ‘withdrawal agreement’. This, in essence, is an agreement with the EU to continue with current rules and regulations over a whole range of issues, including consumer protection, for a transitional period while UK Government laws are adjusted and it negotiates a trade deal to succeed established trade arrangements.

Putting aside any trade deal, leaving the EU means untangling the UK from over 40 years of mutual and collective EU consumer regulation. So what would Brexit mean for your consumer rights?

A ‘managed withdrawal’

If the Government has succeeded in passing a ‘withdrawal agreement’ to which the EU can agree, your consumer rights and protections should continue as if nothing had happened. However, this will be a temporary arrangement lasting only so long as it takes for the UK to untangle its law from EU law and to agree new trade arrangements. Once those trade arrangements are in place and Brexit is complete, the UK government will be free to reform consumer laws as they see fit. No one can predict, at this time, how that would impact on consumer protections going forward.

A ‘suspended withdrawal’

A suspension of the withdrawal process (what commentators mean when they say ‘suspending Article 50’) would, similarly, result in no change to you as a consumer until the withdrawal process was resumed and completed. Then either the scenario above or below would come into play.

A ‘no-deal Brexit’

If the UK leaves the EU with no agreement on consumer rights going forward there is no fast or simple way to describe what will happen next.

Fortunately for UK consumers, much of EU consumer legislation has already been absorbed into UK law. That means, in many areas, your consumer rights will remain as they are now; especially if buying and selling goods and services within UK boundaries.

Where things become more complicated is with preserving your consumer rights and protections when buying or selling across EU or international borders. Current cross-border protections will no longer be valid, unless agreed outside EU law. As we will no longer be part of the EU, any consumer protections the EU had negotiated with countries outside the EU will also cease to be valid for UK consumers.

For those engaged in a cross-border consumer relationship which will bridge Brexit day, such as having already booked holidays for April onwards, where a transitional arrangement has not been agreed between the relevant parties in the intervening period, it is not clear how the balance of rights and responsibilities will be affected.

The reality is that, should you be reading this after a ‘no-deal Brexit’ has come to pass, your ability to act as a consumer across EU borders as you did one month ago will have changed. But you will retain existing consumer rights and protections as a consumer of UK goods and services; at least until successive governments look to reform this area of policy.

Whatever the outcome of Brexit, keep your eyes and ears open…and don’t panic!

For more information call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06 or visit:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/your-consumer-rights-after-brexit/consumer-rights-and-protection-after-brexit#your-consumer-rights-until-29-march-2019

https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/how-will-brexit-affect-my-consumer-rights

Our thanks to Coventry Citizens Advice (CCA) for submitting this article to us. For more information, contact your local CA offices or visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk