Share Prices & Company Research


16 February 2021

Brexit and the Consumer: What’s changed?

Almost five years on from the United Kingdom’s historic European Union (EU) referendum, the country has now completed its departure from the union and the second largest trading bloc in the world.

In the months and years leading up to the UK’s withdrawal, there was inevitably serious debate on a number of topics which affect businesses and the general public on both sides of the English Channel, not least, trade.

Although we are all affected by the UK’s new trading terms with nations across the world, the long-term effects on our daily lives remain to be seen. In the short-term, however, some effects of Brexit have already been felt, both in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In terms of the UK High Street, changes have been somewhat minimal thus far, largely due to tariff-free trading between the EU and the UK continuing as part of the new deal. The idea is that maintaining tariff-free trading between the two will allow for shelves to remain stocked and price rises to be kept at a minimum. Without an agreement, the UK would have defaulted to World Trade Organisation (WTO) trade terms, meaning that products such as meat and dairy could have incurred tariffs of up to 50%.

The European Commission stated upon completion of the deal that the UK and EU created “an ambitious free trade area with no tariffs or quotas on products, regulatory and customs co-operation mechanisms.”

While most High Street retailers have been able to continue largely as normal, some food retailers have reported difficulties. In early January, gaps were reported on the shelves of some supermarkets, particularly in Northern Ireland due to it sharing a land border with the Republic of Ireland and, therefore, the EU. Similarly, Marks and Spencer, Sainsburys and Tesco have written to the UK Government suggesting that when the Brexit grace period ends of 31st March 2021, which has thus far exempted companies from red tape, stock shortages will get worse. Meanwhile Ocado was the first online grocery retailer to report potential shortages in the future as a result of red tape.

This, coupled with the panic buying and general shortages brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic, means that consumers have often been left without many of their usual groceries. However, the UK government advised in January that more disruption to supermarket supply chains should be expected as routes into and out of the UK get busier following the quieter New Year period, a period heavily affected by border delays in Dover.

The consumer rights of Brits buying from EU retailers will remain unchanged, but online shoppers and holidaymakers buying products in the EU that cost more than £390 will have to pay import duties. Retail, though, isn’t the only sector affected by Brexit.

How Brits and our European neighbours travel between Europe and the UK will be one of the changes that affects the average person the most. Freedom of movement between the two zones is now a thing of the past, with the new rules meaning that UK citizens can only visit the EU for business or holidays for a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period. Although travel will be visa-free, from 2022 UK visitors to countries in the Schengen Area will be required to pay a £6.28 visa waiver fee. Travel to Ireland, however, remains unchanged.

One of the most well-documented changes (quite literally) will see our passports revert back to their original blue colour, while the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is being replaced by the new Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) to allow UK nationals access to emergency healthcare overseas. In addition, Brits will be subject to more stringent border checks when entering EU nations, losing the right to use ‘EU Citizen’ lanes in airports and instead having to use ‘Rest of the World’ queues.

Meanwhile, regulations concerning items the average citizen can transport between the UK and the EU have also changed, as one haulier discovered when his ham sandwiches were confiscated at the Dutch border in January. Other factors which consumers may not have considered previously will also change. For example, UK visitors to Europe may incur roaming changes when they use their mobile phones abroad, with network providers capping these at £45.

Brexit has inevitably brought about a multitude of changes to existing processes, services and aspects of our lives which we may previously have taken for granted. Whether the Brexit deal turns out to be good or bad for the British consumer remains to be seen in the months and years ahead.
Brexit and the Consumer: What’s changed?
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