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  1. ITV Report

EU Referendum: How would a Brexit affect consumer and citizen rights?

The UK in a Changing Europe provides independent impartial information, from leading academics, on the UK’s relations with the EU.

This article is written by them to help people understand the potential different impacts of a remain or leave vote.

The views do not necessarily represent those of ITV News

Britons have many citizen and consumer rights because the UK is a member of the EU. Credit: PA

Consumers and citizens

Strengths

Because the UK is a member of the EU, UK citizens have the rights to move, work, live and invest in other EU countries. They also enjoy the right to vote and stand in municipal and European Parliament elections if they live in other member states. Equally, citizens of other EU countries can do this in the UK. And if British citizens ever need to seek consular protection abroad where Britain does not have a consulate, they can do so from other member states.

The EU has also granted British citizens many protections as consumers that they previously did not have. This includes greater protection from unfair contracts, unsafe goods and doorstep selling. EU law has also been very successful at limiting restrictive practices and combatting monopolies on subjects as diverse as roaming charges, internet search engines and tied contracts.

The EU has also afforded British citizens many consumer protections. Credit: Reuters

Weaknesses

EU citizenship is often seen as undermining national citizenship. Many resent the idea that somebody who has worked part-time for a couple of weeks can secure the same benefits as British citizens.

Similarly, EU consumer protection and competition law is seen by some as intrusive, generating greater uncertainty about when contracts are enforceable or not. And some national consumer protection laws have been struck down on the grounds that they violate free movement of goods, such as labelling laws, that the Court of Justice thinks are overzealous, or procedures for authorising new food products that are considered too cumbersome.

Opportunities

There is a good chance that EU consumer protection laws will continue to extend, protecting British consumers even more if the UK remains in the EU. One opportunity that may arise in the event of Britain leaving the EU is that British judges might be able to re-establish English laws on consumer and citizen rights and protections more firmly than is currently the case under EU laws.

Threats

If the UK remains in the EU, it will remain subject to EU law. EU competition and consumer protection law are fields where the European Court of Justice might give unexpected and unwelcomed judgments in the future.

If the UK votes to leave the EU, its consumers might not be able to enjoy the same rights and protections as they currently do, especially when living in the remaining EU countries. There is also a possibility that EU consumer protection law might be rolled back. But British industry might still be exposed to EU competition law in the event of a ‘Brexit’ – the EU has often aggressively applied its competition laws to companies in non-EU countries when they are operating in any way in the EU.