UK operators would be free to charge for EU roaming in 'no-deal' Brexit

UK mobile operators could be subject to caps on how much they can charge customers for roaming within the EU, but will not be obliged to offer inclusive data roaming within the EU in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit.

All roaming fees were abolished across the EU in June 2017 following several years of price cuts, as per European law. However, these regulations will not automatically apply should the UK crash out of the EU without an agreement.

Brexit secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC he received assurances from Three and Vodafone that additional charges for using voice, text and data services within the bloc will not be restored if the UK fails to reach a deal with the EU before March 2019.

EU roaming after Brexit

If the other major operators do not also pledge to do so, Raab had suggested the government will force them to do so by law. However official guidance states that additional fees would be limited to £45 a month.

Intense competition within the UK market means its unlikely that the charges will return, at least in the short term. For example, Three offers inclusive roaming in 71 destinations around the world in a bid to attract more users to its network, while other operators also offer roaming deals.

However, a no-deal Brexit would mean that European operators would be under no obligation to offer their UK counterparts favourable access to their infrastructure. This means operator costs could rise and margins squeezed even further.

Although it is also possible that European operators will offer British networks access to their services in exchange for a similar arrangement for their own customers. After all, European mobile users have also become accustomed to using their phones in the UK without paying extra.

Three told TechRadar Pro that its position hadn’t changed since last December.

“My ambition is to free our customers and offer 100% roaming worldwide at no extra cost and we will continue to abolish unfair roaming charges until we achieve this,” Three CEO Dave Dyson said at the time. 

“We’re passionate about improving our customers’ experience when travelling abroad, so they can stay connected and use their phones just as they do at home. To reassure our customers, we have also committed to maintain the availability of roaming in the EU at no additional cost following Brexit.”

Vodafone added: "We were the first UK operator to abolish roaming charges within the EU and we have no plans to introduce these charges. We very much hope arrangements can be made which will ensure we can continue to offer UK consumers our Roam-free service in more destinations than anyone else."

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.