Scrapping EU rules could leave travellers stranded without compensation

It’s worth repeating – again and again – that Brexit was to be a beacon of opportunity and a gateway to prosperity for British business.  

This is despite the fact that it has not happened for most UK companies. However, consumers are concerned about the possibility of losing out on such opportunities.

‘Red-tape’ is a term which has become one of the defining phrases of the entire Brexit episode. Rarely properly defined, it’s most famously been associated with noisy vacuum cleaners, curvy cucumbers and bendy bananas. 

These myths and claims have proven to be a distraction. For some businesses, the best thing about Brexit was the chance to operate without crucial regulations protecting the environment and consumers.


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Liberal Democrats have made it clear that the December 2019 election gave the government a mandate for leaving the EU under the terms negotiated through Boris Johnson. The government should not use this as a license to rip up these protections to curry favor with corporations that regard these essential measures as irritating obstacles. 

Despite our protestations to the contrary, the government continues to race to the bottom over what it considers excessive regulations. One of the most recent and alarming instances is the government’s plans to reform compensation rules for domestic flights within the UK. 

AnalysisWhich? estimates the new system – as proposed by the government – could save airlines tens of thousands of pounds for a single flight. At the same time, compensation for customers could plummet to a quarter of its current amount, with the average sum that each passenger would be entitled to dropping from £220 to just £57.

Put another way, if an average full flight from Gatwick to Belfast was cancelled or had a long delay, the airline is currently legally obliged to pay £39,600 in compensation. Under the proposed changes, this would drop to just £9,900.

The new system, which was submitted to a Reforming Aviation Consumer Policy consultation held by the Department for Transport (DfT), which ended in March 2016, would replace EU261 rules. These permit passengers to claim the £220 once their flight has been delayed by three hours. The new system is closer to the Delay Repay system that was used in rail. Instead, compensation would be offered based upon the ticket price and the length of the delay.

I wrote to Grant Shapps (the Secretary of State for Transport) to urge his department to reject these possible changes. I also encouraged him to bolster protections in the area as a way of providing greater – not fewer – protections to consumers in the aviation industry. 

They are not burdensome red-tape, but they are crucial in ensuring that timetables do not get cancelled or delayed. If these changes are implemented, consumers could be delayed or worse, stranded without adequate financial compensation. They could also lead to unfair practices like overbooking.

We can’t say for sure what other laws the government have in their sights, but earlier this year they did introduce the ‘Brexit freedoms bill’, with the intention of simplifying the process of amending or removing some of the “bridging” laws that have been preserved to provide legal certainty in a period of legislative and regulatory upheaval. 

The government could remove unfavorable laws much faster and easier with the new bill. The government suggested that the areas of data protection, public procurement, subsidy control systems, and environmental regulations could all be improved by a restructuring of the regulatory framework. 

Many are aware of the irony. Brexit has not been a catalyst for British businesses to unleash their true potential. As can the collapsed trade with the EU, spiralling food prices, and endless Dover lorry queues can all testify to this. Before Jacob Rees-Mogg, the new Minister of State for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, gets stuck into the British statute book, he would do well to speak to small business owners up and down the country, and perhaps observe their reactions when told of the government’s intention to once again try and “solve” the red tape “problem”. 

“Burdensome” red tape is a misnomer. Red tape is not something to be feared. It is an essential part of protecting the environment and putting in place checks that protect consumers. Red tape in another universe may have prevented the government winning. billions of taxpayer’sThousands of dollars on badly designed procurement systems at the start of the pandemic. 

In our desperate rush to paint Brexit as a success we must not allow government to use it for scrapping important regulation. The stakes are too high with environmental obligations to meet and consumers to protect in a cost-of-living crisis.