Brexploitation and the Future of Transnational Data

Since 2016, Brexit has taken many manifestations—from the early Brexodus of those individuals worried about the safety of their family where one partner is a EU citizen to university researchers in the field of science concerned about their future employment with EU grants in the balance of Brextinction. The most recent chapter has us looking at a Brexathon that may last at least until the end of this year, or even beyond.

The latest revelation in what I call “Brexploitation” is how Brexit will impact travel. One of the biggest issues facing travelers is the future of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which gives British citizens free or discounted medical treatment at general practitioners and state hospitals in EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. This means that if you are on holiday in Spain and your child is injured, the same payment policies for nationals in-country will apply to the British traveler. The NHS has posted specific information on its website alerting everyone about the potential changes to the EHIC after Brexit.

Travel restrictions are another obstacle in a post-Brexit Britain. Last month the EU Parliament approved visa-free travel for Brits traveling to the EU; yet, travel to other countries may not be so easy or affordable. For instance, the US and Britain recently negotiated a new “Open Skies” agreement that ensures “the continuation of the vital transatlantic routes used by tens of millions of passengers a year.” What this means is that the terms of the older  EU–U.S will be observed between the US and Britain. That’s the good news. The bad news is this: discount airline Flybmi has gone bankrupt clearly placing the blame for its demise on Brexit. As a result easyJet, Ryanair and IAG have drafted plans for a no-deal Brexit situation why easyJet has created a subsidiary in Austria called easyJet Europe.

Still, these moves do not secure cheap travel to and from Britain with Ryanair CEO, Michael O’Leary, warning the European Parliament that a no-deal Brexit could cause flights between Britain and North America to be cancelled for months to come. Even taking into account Britain’s status as a major travel hub in the region in addition to its being a key link in the global chain of travel, a prolonged major disruption would likely not be allowed. However, the uncertainty and restrictions in a post-Brexit Britain would likely mean that flights between Britain and the EU will continue their annual 2 percent growth rate as in recent years which translates to less market competition. And this amounts to higher plane fares.

Aside from increased fees for travel widely predicted after the Britain’s departure from the EU, there is also the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) in the US whereby EU travelers must apply for authorization to travel to the US. While not classified as a visa, the ESTA is a means of verifying that EU citizens are authorized to enter the US before leaving home. While Britain will still remain on the list of countries that can apply for this visa, this could change if Britain does not reciprocate post-Brexit if Britain chooses to impose similar travel restrictions as the EU is imposing for US citizens from 2021. After Britain leaves the EU, British travelers to Europe will have to apply for an ESTA-type permit, known as ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) from 2021.

The greatest and perhaps most important electronic impact of Brexit will be GDPR compliance. And even though Britain was a major contributor to the creation of the GDPR, it remains EU legislation. Thus, it is yet to be seen if the British government will, in fact, harmonize its data protection laws to those of the EU. Some view the Data Protection Act 2018, as a move towards GDPR compliance but this is still left to be seen in practice.  The ICO guidance on this matter, as well as the government website, are monitoring the situation on privacy issues post-Brexit. Additionally, the issues regarding GDPR compliance from Britain to countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) which involves another series of manoeuvres.

There are many unknowns for a post-Brexit Britain, but what we have already seen from the fluctuations in the British Pound against the US Dollar ($1.70 in 2014) with the British Pound plummeting to US$1.22 following the EU Referendum in 2016, is that the British currency has never fully recovered. While this will translate as good news for those in Britain working in the tourism sector, this will leave many Brits at home for the holidays, unable to afford vacations outside the country.

Ultimately, the never-ending saga of How the Brexit Turns is beyond confusing even for those of us who have been covering it for the past two years. Now that with a possible second referendum being bantered about, I just want it to end already. What’s certain here is that the irony of new travel procedures due to be unrolled within the EU will leave many a Brits wishing that the one country that they can’t travel to is their own.

Julian Vigo is a scholar, film-maker and human rights consultant. Her latest book is Earthquake in Haiti: The Pornography of Poverty and the Politics of Development (2015). She can be reached at: