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How would a Brexit affect online shopping from the EU?

08 June 2016. Published by Rachael Ellis, Associate

In or out? No matter which side you’re on, there’s one thing we can all agree on: we buy a lot from Europe.

In fact, the EU represents 54.5% of the UK’s imports. This article considers how 'Brexit' might affect what we buy, and answers the questions your inner consumer is dying to know.


Will the cost of what I buy go up after Brexit?


This depends on a large number of factors but the consensus seems to be that prices will increase immediately after Brexit, as businesses react to greater uncertainty by increasing their profit margins and passing on uplifts in the cost of shipping, duties, red tape and border delays to consumers. Exiting the EU would also almost certainly lead to a fall in the value of the pound which is expected to have an adverse effect on prices. A report by ParcelHero ('Delivering Brexit: The True Cost of Leaving the EU') indicates that a typical £150 purchase from the EU would cost Brits around £195: an increase of £45 or 30%.


Ok, so that's the short term. Will prices go down again?


Potentially; but perhaps not for a while. One theory is that, after an initial hike, prices may well fall back one or two years after Brexit as the UK reaches preferential trade/tariff arrangements with cheaper export markets outside of the EU, such as China, Brazil, Russia and India, through the World Trade Organisation. Of course, it is difficult to predict what the net effect may be as trade/tariff arrangements would need to be negotiated on a country-by-country basis, but it is hoped that the UK could reduce tariffs to below EU levels.  VAT, already one of the lowest in Europe, is also predicted to stay the same, meaning that we would continue to enjoy zero rates for certain items such as food, children's clothes and newspapers.


How about the cost of delivery from the EU?


On a current assessment, this seems likely to rise. ParcelHero has predicted that transport costs will increase as the UK becomes a less competitive market for international couriers and global carriers impose new 'customs clearance' charges - typically around £15.  However, much will depend on the extent to which retailers are willing to absorb some of these costs.


Are my consumer rights still protected?


Yes. Consumer rights in the UK were established before we joined the EU and are enshrined in legislation and through case law. Our existing system now includes some EU-inspired rights but is likely to remain the same, unless Parliament decides to repeal or change the law. This means that you would still be entitled to a refund if the goods you bought turned out to be unfit for purpose, for example. All UK-based manufacturers who supply EU countries would still need to comply with any new EU standards so we would be protected by these anyway.


One grey area is Europe-wide protections such as fixed mobile roaming tariffs; could this really be our last summer of envy-inducing social media snaps? It has been predicted that consumers would probably lose out on benefits such as Europe-wide mobile tariffs, at least in the short term. This recently introduced EU law banning roaming fees would no longer benefit Brits after Brexit and caps would therefore be removed.


As this article shows, in the event of Brexit, it would be up to our Government to ensure that the UK is included in any Europe-wide arrangements so that Brits' shopping habits aren't affected.