Britain wants ‘new, deep and special’ partnership with Norway: ambassador

The UK will take several steps to maintain a strong post-Brexit relationship with Norway, writes British Ambassador to Norway Sarah Gillett.

Britain wants 'new, deep and special' partnership with Norway: ambassador
British Ambassador to Norway Sarah Gillett. Photo: British Embassy Oslo

It has been a busy and interesting period since a majority of the British people voted to leave the European Union (EU), triggering one of the biggest changes in our continent for a generation.

Understanding the democratic decision, analysing its implications, and planning how to implement it, is an important and complex task. While it inevitably inspires a lot of questions about the future, many of the answers will take time because of the complexity.

The complexity also applies to Norway, which is not a member of the EU or its Customs Union, but is part of the EU Single Market through the European Economic Area (EEA). Norway also has separate agreements with the EU on agriculture and fisheries, and participates in the Schengen arrangements. Some 70 percent of Norway’s trade is with the EU, but the UK is Norway’s largest market, and Norway the UK’s most important energy supplier.

We will need new arrangements with Norway, but we cannot negotiate these whilst the UK is still a member of the EU. The UK both fully honours its obligations, and respects Norway’s. I believe that our track records in honouring the terms of our EU and EEA agreements respectively show each country takes its legal commitments very seriously.

To prepare for this new partnership, and enable a smooth transition, we are expanding the diplomatic dialogue and working together to understand each other’s priorities in order to be as well prepared as possible for the time when we will need to put new arrangements in place.

An important issue is how we provide certainty for the many thousands of Norwegian and British nationals who live on either side of the North Sea, and make such valuable contributions to our respective societies and economies.

Another priority is to minimise disruption for businesses, and provide investors with as much certainty and clarity as soon as we can.

After the fourth round of UK-EU negotiations, which took place shortly after Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech in Florence, the following points are governing British planning for the future: 

  • The UK’s decision to leave the institutions of the EU was because a majority of voters wanted more control over decisions affecting their lives. It was not a decision to withdraw from Europe, or disengage from the success of our continent. Britain has always, and will always, stand with friends and allies in defence of European security, stability, prosperity, and shared values.
  • The UK clearly understands that leaving the EU means that we cannot have all the benefits of membership, without accepting the obligations. Therefore the UK desire to control its immigration and other policies means we will be leaving the EU Single Market.
  • For the sake of our continent’s continuing prosperity and progress, the UK is proposing a unique and ambitious economic partnership. The starting point is over four decades of regulatory harmonisation, and a shared commitment to high standards and free trade.
  • The UK is the second largest economy in Europe. We will continue to be a major contributor to wealth and innovation. And we want to do so in close partnership with other European countries so that future generations of Europeans can fulfil their dreams and maximise the potential of our continent.
  • We will need to negotiate a new framework, and this is likely to be different from any other existing framework – including the EEA agreement.
  • Our unconditional commitment to European security remains just as strong. We have proposed a bold new strategic partnership with the EU, including an agreement on security, law enforcement and criminal justice.
  • The UK has reassured its EU partners that none of them will have to pay more, or receive less, during the present budget period, and that the UK will honour its commitments made during the period of our EU membership.
  • To transition to a new relationship in a smooth and orderly way, the UK has proposed a period of implementation. How long that period is should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes that will underpin our future partnership, but we expect it to last for around two years. 

The UK is optimistic about progress achieved so far in its negotiations with the EU, and is confident from being able to build a future as the EU’s strongest friend and partner. 

I am every bit as confident that the UK’s future relationship with Norway will be just as strong. 

Ms Sarah Gillett CMG CVO began her appointment as Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Norway in July 2014. Ms Gillett joined the FCO in 1976 and has served overseas in the United States of America, France, Brazil, Canada, and most recently as Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

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How roaming charges will hit travellers between the UK and EU in 2022

Trips between Europe and the UK and vice versa may well become more expensive for many travellers in 2022 as UK mobile operators bring back roaming charges. However there is some good news for all EU residents.

People look at their mobile phones.
How travellers between the EU and UK could be hit by roaming charges in 2022 (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

EU ‘roams like at home’ at least until 2032

First the good news. The European Union is set to decide to extend free roaming until 2032, so if you have your phone contract registered in an EU country you don’t have to worry about extra charges.

In addition to waiving the charges, the new regulation aims to ensure that travellers benefit of the same quality of service they have at home when travelling within the EU. If they have a 5G contract, for instance, they should also get 5G through the EU if possible. 

Under new rules, travellers should be given information about access to emergency services, including for people with disabilities.

Consumers should also be protected from prohibitive bills caused by inadvertent roaming on satellite networks when travelling on ferries or aeroplanes.

The final text of the new regulation was provisionally agreed in December. The European Parliament and Council will formally endorse it in the coming weeks.

UK companies reintroducing roaming charges this year

And now the bad news for travellers to the EU from the UK

Customers of UK mobile phone operators face higher fees when travelling in Europe this year, as some companies are bringing back roaming charges for calls, text messages and data downloaded during temporary stays in the EU.

This is one of the many consequences of the UK withdrawal from the European Union. Because of Brexit, the UK is no longer part of the EU’s “roam like at home” initiative which was designed to avoid shocking bills after holidays or business trips abroad.

The EU’s roaming regulation allows people travelling in the European Economic Area (EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) to make calls, send texts and browse the web using their regular plans at no extra cost. Switzerland is not part of the scheme, although some mobile phone providers offer roaming deals or special prices to cover travel in Switzerland.

Under EU rules, if the plan’s allowance is exceeded, the roaming fee is also capped at €0.032 per minute of voice call, €0.01 per SMS and €2.5 + VAT per gigabyte downloaded in 2022 (it was €3 + VAT in 2021). The wholesale price networks can charge each other is capped too.

The regulation was adopted for an initial period of five years and is due to expire on June 30th 2022. But the EU is preparing to extend it for another ten years. This time, however, the UK will not be covered. 

Which UK companies are reintroducing charges?

Three major UK network operators this year will reintroduce roaming charges for travels in the EU.

As of January 6th 2022, Vodafone UK will charge customers with monthly plans started after August 11th 2021 £2 per day to roam in the EU. The amount can be reduced to £1 per day by purchasing a pass for 8 or 15 days. Free roaming continues for earlier contracts, Data Xtra plans and for travels to Ireland.  

From March 3rd 2022, EE will also charge £2 per day to roam in 47 European locations, Ireland excluded. The new policy will apply to plans started from July 7th 2021. Alternatively, EE offers the Roam Abroad Pass, which allows roaming abroad for a month for £10. 

Another operator that announced a £2 daily fee to roam in the EEA, except for Ireland, is Three UK. The charge will apply from May 23rd 2022 for plans started or upgraded since October 1st 2021. The data allowance in monthly plans that can be used abroad is also capped at 12 gigabytes. 

O2 already introduced in August last year a 25-gigabyte cap (or less if the plan’s allowance is lower) to data that can be downloaded for free while travelling in Europe. Above that, customers are charged £3.50 per gigabyte. 

Other mobile operators said they have no intention to bring back roaming charges in the short term, but if won’t be surprising if they do so in the future. 

Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection Policy at UK consumer organisation Which? was disappointed at the changes and urged the UK and EU to “strike a deal on roaming charges” to stop companies “chipping away at the roaming benefits customers have become used to” and “prevent the return of the excessive charges people used to encounter.” 

By law, charges for mobile data used abroad remain capped at £45 per month and consumers can only continue data roaming only if they actively chose to keep spending. 

What about EU residents travelling to the UK?

In the EU, most mobile phone operators seem keen to continue free roaming for travels to the UK, but some have announced changes too.

In Sweden, Telenor aligned UK’s prices to those of non-EEA countries on May 1st 2021 while still allowing free roaming for some plans. 

Another Swedish operator, Telia, ended free roaming with the UK and Gibraltar on September 13th 2021 giving customers the option to access 200 megabytes of data for SEK 99 per day. People travelling to the UK can also buy a weekly pass allowing to make calls, send texts and download 1 GB of data. 

In Germany Telefónica Deutschland and 1 & 1 have extended current conditions for the UK until at least the end of 2022. However companies may keep other options open depending on negotiations with roaming partners. 

A1 Telekom Austria brought roaming charges back for the UK last June. Customers now have to pay €2.49 per minute for outgoing calls and €1.49 per minute for incoming calls if they are in the UK or Gibraltar. An SMS costs 99 cents and each 100 KB of data €1.49. 

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.