Which? is releasing a wide-ranging report into the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit on consumers – warning of “immediate” and “severe” consequences for millions of people if the UK fails to reach agreement with Brussels.
The consumer champion launched in-depth research – involving online forums, surveys and a detailed assessment of the Government’s technical notices – as it emerged that two in five people did not understand the potential implications of a no-deal scenario.
Which?’s assessment is that the immediate aftermath of a no-deal Brexit could be “chaotic” and that the Government’s technical papers suggest a reduction in rights and choice, as well as price hikes that would have a “direct and hard” impact on consumers.
It is clear the Government cannot guarantee securing last-minute agreements to avoid the worst consequences outlined in its no-deal papers – and even with comprehensive contingency planning, the consequences for consumers would still be severe, in areas ranging from travel to food, consumer products, energy and consumer rights.
When the likely repercussions and Government plans for a no-deal Brexit in areas such as food and medical supplies were explained to them, many people were shocked and questioned why they had not been made aware of the implications sooner.
In Brexit no-deal: a consumer catastrophe?, Which?’s research shows more than three quarters of people said they thought it was likely that a no-deal Brexit would lead to higher prices for food and other items (76%) and delays at the border for travellers and holidaymakers (75%).
Only one in 10 (12%) thought it unlikely that food prices would rise and one in seven (14%) thought it was unlikely that there would be hold-ups at the border for travellers.
Three in five expect disruption to food supplies because of hold-ups at the border (61%), higher energy costs (60%) and some flight restrictions (57%), while more than two in five (44%) think medicine shortages are likely.
Consumers are most worried about the potential for rising energy costs (76%), rising prices of food and other essentials (72%), medicine shortages (71%) and disruption to food supplies (70%) after a no-deal Brexit.
Which?’s research also shows that consumers believe a no-deal scenario would have a negative impact on consumer rights.
Three quarters (75%) said it will be harder to resolve an issue with a faulty product bought online from a business based in the EU, while seven in 10 (70%) believe it will be more difficult to rely on protections in a European country should the travel company you bought a holiday from go bust.
Which? set out four tests earlier this year in its Consumer Charter for Brexit, judging a successful Brexit on whether it:
- Limits the potential for price rises and increases in the cost of living
- Maintains or enhances current levels of product quality and safety standards
- Supports consumers with a system that ensures their rights and access to redress are protected
- Maintains or enhances consumer choice of a high quality range of products and services
The Government’s own assessments of the potential impact show clearly that a no-deal Brexit would fail to deliver on these tests – and would have immediate and severe consequences for consumers in the areas that matter to them most, such as food, travel, energy prices and consumer rights.
To avoid the potentially disastrous consequences of a no-deal Brexit, the Government must agree a deal with the European Union that maintains vital consumer rights and protections.
Caroline Normand, Which? Director of Policy, said:
“Consumers want a Brexit that protects and enhances their rights and gives them access to a wider range of high-quality, affordable goods and services.
“But it’s clear that many are deeply concerned about what a no-deal Brexit would mean for families and businesses across Britain.
“From grounded flights and delays at borders and airports, to food shortages and soaring energy prices, the impact could be immediate and catastrophic for millions of people, with disruption on a scale not seen since the consumer chaos of the 1970s.
“The Government must agree a deal with the European Union to prevent a disaster scenario for consumers that hits them in the pocket and sees valuable rights effectively snatched away from them.”
Notes to eds
- Brexit no-deal: a consumer catastrophe? is available here: www.which.co.uk/nodeal
- The Which? Brexit tracker (https://consumerinsight.which.co.uk/brexit/survey/prices) is a nationally representative online survey of around 2,000 people which reports once a quarter.