Michael Gove, the top minister in charge of seeing Brexit implemented, told the BBC on Monday, “I’m sure there will be bumpy moments, but we are there to try to do everything we can to smooth the path.”
If the chaos at the English Channel ports last week was prologue — tripped by France closing borders because the newly mutated variant of the coronavirus was spreading “out of control” in Britain — then many expect to see some disruption in the cargo links between Britain and the continent.
But more than four years after Britain voted to split — and after thousands of anxious, raging, nationalistic, infuriated headlines — what next for the ordinary bloke? The answers may be surprising. Things will happen. But will they be felt?
Q: What does Brexit mean, practically, for the average Briton?
A: As it appears now, not very much.
Q: Really? What happens to “freedom of movement”?
A: That is the big one. Freedom of movement is gone. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “taking back control” meant taking back control of borders and immigration. Europe answered in kind.
So starting Jan. 1, Britons will no longer be members of the European Union with all the rights and responsibilities, but members of a “third country.”
Britons will no longer be able to freely pack up and move to Europe, as if there were no border, to find a job, rent a home, start a life or retire, without a stack of permissions. Nor will Europeans be able to do the same in Britain. For those who want to relocate and work, there will be visas and paperwork required.
Q: What happens to the English holiday tourist just taking a week in sunny Spain?
A: Nothing, really. British citizens will be allowed to stay in the E.U. for 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. The same will go for E.U. citizens visiting Britain.
By the way, the same rules apply to a U.S. citizen traveling to Britain or Europe.
They should also have at least six months left on their passport before they travel.
Q: What happens when the Britons take those cheap flights to Berlin or Barcelona?
British passport holders will no longer be able to use the (sometimes, not always) faster E.U. citizens passport control lane at airports. Meaning, they’ll be treated like Americans arriving in Europe.
Q: Will their mobile phones stop working upon arrival?
A: No. The Guardian reports: “Free mobile phone data-roaming will end. However, U.K. customers may notice little change. The four main providers in the U.K. — EE, 02, Vodafone and Three — have said they have no plans to reintroduce roaming charges.”
Q: British driver’s licenses in E.U. nations will go kaput?
A: Britons will still be able to use their licenses in Europe. At present, they will not be required to secure an international driving permit, as once feared. They’ll need proof of insurance, specifically a “green card,” showing the car and driver are covered in Europe.
Q: What about Mr. Bigglesworth? Will British pets be allowed to travel to Europe?
A: No more pet passports for the British. A dog, cat or ferret must be microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and checked by a vet, who issues an Animal Health Certificate, says the British government (which isn’t much different from requirements for the pet passports).
Q: What happens to the Britons already living in Europe? And the Europeans living in Britain?
A: The previously agreed upon Withdrawal Agreement protects the rights of both to remain, but they need to apply for “settled status” to continue to live in Britain and the most of the European Union. Of course, immigration will continue. It just won’t be so easy.
According to the United Nations, about 1.3 million people born in Britain live in 27 member nations of the European Union — mostly Spain and France. And 3.7 million E.U. citizens live in Britain. They don’t have to leave.
Q: Will French wines and Spanish olives cost more in a British supermarket?
A: The successful completion of the Brexit deal means no tariffs and no quotas for goods traded between Britain and Europe. Yet there will be more sanitary inspections for food, more customs declarations and more red tape, so prices could rise alongside delays, especially in the early months. But the chairman of Tesco, the largest supermarket chain in Britain, told the BBC on Monday that costs “will hardly be felt” by consumers.
Q: What happens to health care for British citizens traveling abroad?
A: Before Brexit, British citizens with a European Health Insurance card could get government-provided medical care while traveling in the European Union. This was good for emergencies and preexisting conditions. When those cards expire — and there have been 27 million of them issued — the British government promises a replacement: the U.K. Global Health Insurance card.
“This will allow state-provided medical treatment if people fall ill or have an accident in the E.U., Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein while on holiday,” the Times of London reported, quoting a source at the Department of Health and Social Care saying details would “be set out in due course.”
Q: What happens to university students?
A: Students from the European Union will no longer be able to attend British universities under the Erasmus program, which provided for deeply discounted exchange programs. More Europeans took advantage of the program than British students going abroad, so it cost the British government more than it got. In the future, according to the Independent newspaper, Johnson’s government promises a $130 million replacement to send British students abroad, named after the British mathematician, computer visionary and code-breaker Alan Turing. Details to come.