Brexit 5: 2021 – New year, new era

As we dive into 2021 with high hopes of a brighter future, the dawn of a new EU-UK relationship is upon us. The two partners avoided a no-deal Brexit just before the end of the transition period on 31st December, by signing off on the provisional EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement just before we got to taste our Christmas Eve dinner. While we wait for the European Parliament’s political groups to go through the (nearly 1300 pages long) deal before it is ratified, the realities of Brexit are already starting to sink in. Below some of the disruptions that have come to our attention following the separation of the UK from the EU bloc. But, hey, there may be positives too!

Ciao, confinement!

British nationals travelling from or to EU countries have faced troubles boarding flights, sometimes despite supplying necessary documents to show their residence in an EU country or legit reasons to travel. The Covid-19 pandemic did not help, as a new strain of the virus was found in England, which caused the UK to go into a strict lockdown at the end of 2020. As a response, a large group of European countries blocked all traffic to and from the UK to contain the spread.

As of the start of 2021, the UK is also no longer exempt from Covid-related restrictions on non-essential travel, meaning EU countries can refuse entrance. The Netherlands turned away thirteen people since the start of this year, various British citizens living in Spain were denied access to flights, and others were locked out of Germany despite showing a negative test.

Au revoir, salad bar!

Food shops of British multinational retailer Marks & Spencer have struggled to provide their customers in France with their food products and goods. Foods items, such as salads and ready meals, were missing from Paris shelves. M&S said deliveries were not received due to the new trade rules.

Besides that, food supply across the Irish Sea has been disrupted. As Northern Ireland did not leave the EU’s single market, goods imported from the UK are also subject to customs checks. Trucks with food coming from the UK were stopped at the border, as it turns out they did not carry the required paperwork. Some major retailers (Sainsbury’s, Asda and Tesco) were forced to present empty shelves to their customers. Senior civil servants have said it is mainly a lack of preparedness by British firms for new processes, and call on authorities to toot the horn with suppliers and parcel companies.

BBC reports one in five trucks being sent back. Yet, overall traffic has been low partly due to the pandemic, which prevented a crisis, but there are fears of massive bottlenecks in places where vehicles pass to the other side of the Channel have not occurred (yet!). Lorry traffic through the UK’s second largest port has dropped to about one-third of its capacity. At least, for now.

Ama-so long!

UK customers have been left empty-handed as EU online retailers are dropping out of deliveries over the Channel. Various companies have expressed discontent with the UK’s new taxation system that applies as of 1st January 2021. VAT in the UK will from now on be collected at point of sale. This causes online retailers to face more paperwork at added costs if the sale value is less than €150 / £135. Not a small price to pay!

While it is too soon to say how many of them now refuse UK orders as a result of Brexit, and how long it may last, there are some notable examples: online bike retailer, Dutch Bike Bits, said it is “forced by British policy to stop dealing with British customers”. Beer on Web, based in Belgium, also mentions it “can no longer ship to the UK”. Finland-based Scandinavian Outdoor, brought up the fact it has temporarily closed its store from UK-based customers but will be back as soon as it has sorted out the registration. Retailer Debenhams has closed its online business in Ireland to escape tariff costs.

In addition, a number of international shipping companies have indicated they will levy additional charges on parcels moving from the UK to the EU, or the other way around. Some slight delays in delivery arrival might come up, but it is expected that this will smoothen in the weeks to come. Parcel courier DPD UK suspended road delivery to EU countries until 13th January at the earliest.

Tot kijk! Or not?

Access to streaming services was cut off, due to the end of “cross-border portability”, meaning UK customers visiting the EU (and vice versa), might not be able to stream their favourite movie or series from services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney plus or Sky. The latter told consumers that they “won’t be entitled to stream Sky outside the UK” as it cannot provide its service like it did before. Service providers can offer cross-border portability to their customers on a voluntary basis but would need the permission of the owners of the content provided to do so.

Euractiv highlighted that “over 80.000 internet domain names assigned to UK registrants have been suspended by the EU registry” just after 23.00 UK time on New Year’s Eve. This means registrants based in the UK cannot have an .eu domain. Suspended domains, which now do not have functional features, can change their address to a non-UK one until 31st March 2021.

Hoping for the best

The UK is on its own now, regaining its “sovereignty” as lauded by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It is now a third country, and while a new agreement is provisionally in place, things are not the same as they used to be. And this is already affecting the lives of millions of people. Disruptions are not out of the ordinary when adjusting to new rules. However, for the moment, the UK finds itself in a particularly challenging position dealing with Brexit, as well as the Covid-19 crisis, which has snowballed in the past few weeks. More so, with Scots potentially pushing through their independence (and even reuniting with the EU afterwards), political tensions are rising.

The past week exhibits some of the downfalls of exiting the EU club – a club full of faults but that delivered real benefits to consumers and businesses, some of which we may have not even been aware came with EU membership. The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, hopes the departure will at least discourage other EU countries from leaving the bloc. As the chapter on UK membership of the EU is now part of history books, we turn over to writing a new one. One that hopefully, also for the UK, brings a lot of prosperity, and will entail collaboration and camaraderie.

The Whitehouse team are experts in the potential impact of Brexit, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients across the Member States of the European Union and the United Kingdom. More information about our Brexit experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at