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No-deal Brexit documents spell bad news for Galileo, roaming fees, driving licences

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The government has released the second batch of papers advising on the impact that a no-deal Brexit would have on British citizens and businesses.

Among the topics covered in the latest documents are the validity of British driving licences on the continent, roaming charges for mobile phones and the future of the European space and satellites programmes.

Mobile phone bills for customers living near the border in Northern Ireland could spike after Brexit, along with travellers to European countries, one of the papers reveals.

It warns that consumers and businesses should be aware of “inadvertent” data roaming, where a stronger signal from the Republic kicks in.

It comes after Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab urged phone companies not to impose roaming charges on customers if Britain crashes out of the European Union.

Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith said: “Two-thirds of people think it is important that free roaming exists when travelling in the EU, so the news that we could face the return of sky-high charges to use our phones abroad will come as a real blow.

“If the government is to deliver a Brexit that works for consumers, it needs to not only maintain free roaming across the EU, but also look to extend the benefit of free roaming for people visiting countries worldwide.”

Vodafone, Three, EE and O2 - which together cover more than 85 per cent of mobile subscribers - have said they have no current plans to change their approach to mobile roaming once the UK leaves.

The papers also assert that UK firms currently working on the EU’s Galileo satellite navigation system could be cut out of existing contracts under a no-deal Brexit.

This follows the decision taken by the European Space Agency (ESA) in June to begin procurement for its next stage, effectively shutting out British companies from future bids. 

The €10bn (£9bn) programme has been at the heart of an access row between the UK and the EU that prompted Theresa May to announce £92m seed funding for a British rival in August. 

Firms have already been warned they face blocks to bidding for new work on the programme, a rival to the US GPS system.

Now a technical paper released by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has gone further, warning the UK would “no longer play any part in the development of Galileo” or the related European Geostationary Navigation Overlay (EGNO) system.

It added: “This means that UK-based businesses, academics and researchers will be unable to bid for future EU Global Navigation Satellite System contracts and may face difficulty carrying out and completing existing contracts.

“For example, it may not be possible for businesses or organisations which currently host Galileo and EGNO ground infrastructure to continue to do so.”

Britain is keen to remain part of Galileo after Brexit if a deal can be agreed, but the EU is insisting full membership of the programme is only open to member states.

Elsewhere, the papers reveal that UK driving licences may no longer be valid on their own to drive in the European Union.

Drivers could need International Driving Permits (IDP) if the EU does not agree to recognise UK licences, according to new guidance.

They may be turned away at borders or face enforcement action if they have not obtained the correct documents.

There are two types of IDP required by EU countries, depending on whether they have ratified the 1949 or 1968 conventions on road traffic.

This means some itineraries will require both permits, such as when people drive into France and then Spain.

The documents cost £5.50. The 1949 type is available over the counter at around 90 Post Office branches or by mail order from two private companies.

The Department for Transport believes up to seven million permits could be requested in the first 12 months after Brexit.

AA president Edmund King said: “This will be an extra burden for UK drivers wanting to take a holiday abroad. We envisage quite a rush on Post Offices next year for the £5.50 IDPs if no deal is reached.

“Hopefully an agreement can be reached to prevent further red tape and expense for drivers.”

Finally, the government warned that transfers of personal data from remaining EU countries to UK companies and organisations could be restricted by a no-deal Brexit.

Ministers pledged to maintain a free flow of data from the UK to organisations in the remaining 27 EU states in the event of Britain leaving without a withdrawal agreement.

However, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said transfers of digital information in the other direction were dependent on a decision by the European Commission, which has said the issue cannot be settled until after the date of Brexit on March 29 2019.

Trade body TechUK said the paper makes clear a no-deal Brexit would be “hugely damaging to the UK”, inflicting “additional costs, complexity and bureaucracy” on businesses and consumers.

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