Exiting the European Union (Consumer Protection)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:53 pm on 2nd April 2019.

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Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 3:53 pm, 2nd April 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Kevin Foster. I actually agree with a large percentage of his very detailed contribution, particularly in relation to some of the protections that are going to be lost. Before I get started on the substance of my speech, may I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and my shareholding in the digital marketing company, Teclan?

I am amazed at how blasé those on the Government and Labour Front Benches have been about this statutory instrument. It is one of the instruments that will directly affect consumers and business owners across the nations of the UK almost immediately. Geo-blocking legislation is there for a purpose: to ensure that there is fairness for companies. Instituting this SI without any other provisions causes unfairness anyway: having it in place is unfair, and removing it is unfair too. It is one of those consequences of Brexit that highlights the foolishness of this whole process. There is a way to avoid the SI and a hard Brexit. We need to understand that Westminster has failed to make any kind of decision, that we should revoke article 50 and that we should get to the point where we can bring the choice to the people, with the option to remain.

Returning to the substance of the measure, the EU have introduced geo-blocking—we were in partnership on the legislation—to balance the growth of online platforms, with a need to protect small and medium enterprises and consumers. It focuses on transparency and new options for redress. In short, it treats EU citizens—currently us—and other end users in the same manner. It does not take account of nationality, place of residence or the place of establishment. The European Union’s “Notice to stakeholders: withdrawal of the United Kingdom and EU legislation in the field of geo-blocking” says that from the date of application the regulation

“prohibits discrimination based on customers’
nationality, place of residence or place of establishment, including unjustified geo-blocking, in certain cross-border transactions between a trader and a customer in relation to the sales of goods and the provision of services within the EU. In particular, it provides for the following measures protecting customers: ban of discriminatory blocking or limiting customers' access to traders’
online interfaces (e.g. a website) and redirecting them to another online interface without the customer’s prior consent”.

That is the simple right for someone to get what they are looking for. The regulation imposes a prohibition on traders to apply, in certain defined situations, on a discriminatory basis different conditions of access for customers to goods and services…informally known as ‘shop like a local’” across the EU. The regulation provides for

“non-discrimination for reasons related to payment. As of the withdrawal date, natural persons residing in the United Kingdom (unless they have a nationality of a Member State) or undertakings established in the United Kingdom will not be able to benefit from Regulation (EU) 2018/302”.

There are no undertakings established by the UK Government, so there is a direct inequity.

The notice says that

“such persons or undertakings who wish to access websites in the EU will not benefit from the aforementioned ban related to access to traders’
online interfaces. This means that a trader could block, limit or redirect those customers to specific versions of his/her website which might be different from the one that the customers initially sought to access.”

Again, that is a clear removal of a right that we currently enjoy. The notice says that

“such persons or undertakings will not have the guarantee to be able to ‘shop like a local’
in the EU in the situations covered by Article 4 of the Regulation, including benefitting from the same prices and conditions relating to the delivery of goods and services as the locals (i.e. the customers of the trader's home Member State). For example, the off-line and on-line sales of goods and services, such as goods delivered or picked up in the EU territory, tickets for sports events or amusement parks in Member States, and the sale of electronically supplied services, such as hosting services, are areas where those customers will be affected…such persons or undertakings using payment means from the United Kingdom will not be protected against traders applying different conditions for a payment transaction from the ones offered to EU customers, or refused to complete the purchase for reasons related to payment, when (wanting to) pay electronically for goods or services.”

The notice goes on to list the rights that we will lose as a result of not being able to participate in the legislation on geo-blocking.