EU nations unanimously approve Brexit deal as Britons warned over travel insurance, charges and exports

Britons travelling to the European Union have been warned they face disruption and potential charges after the Brexit transition period ends on Thursday – as EU ambassadors said yes to the deal.

Travellers from the UK have previously been able to rely on free healthcare with their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), and to escape roaming charges thanks to a ban on the fees throughout the bloc.

But the trade deal brokered between the European Union and the UK does not allow for Britons to keep either of these advantages.

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The deal only says both sides must encourage mobile providers to have “transparent and reasonable rates”, while government guidance tells British travellers to check with their mobile provider to see what charges they will face.

Any British visitor to the EU will also have to make sure their passport has enough validity when they begin their journey.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove acknowledged there will be “some disruption” as the nation adjusts, so he said “it is vital” to be as ready as possible.

He told Sky News that it was “important” for British holidaymakers to take out travel insurance – with healthcare cover – before travelling to the EU from 1 January.

But he added there would be “a specific provision for people who do have very serious ailments”.

“There will be a successor to the EHIC card which makes sure that those people for whom health insurance will always be a difficult thing can have their healthcare covered,” Mr Gove said.

“And, of course, people who are currently resident in the EU who are British – there are around one million of those – they have, under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, access to EHIC cards as well.”

Mr Gove also warned businesses that the time left to make final preparations before the new deal comes into force “is very short”.

He spoke shortly before EU ambassadors met on Monday to unanimously approve the Brexit trade deal, prior to it coming into force on 1 January.

It means the agreement, covering £660bn of trade, can now move on to formal ratification by the European Parliament – although this is set to come after the deal is already in place in the New Year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke with European Council President Charles Michel on Monday.

“I welcomed the importance of the UK/EU Agreement as a new starting point for our relationship, between sovereign equals,” the prime minister posted on Twitter.

“We looked forward to the formal ratification of the agreement and to working together on shared priorities, such as tackling climate change.”

Mr Michel said he discussed the “fair and balanced” trade deal with Mr Johnson, adding: “Looking forward to cooperate on COVID, a possible Treaty on pandemics; climate ahead of COP26 and foreign policy issues as allies sharing common values”.

Businesses must understand the new rules on importing and exporting goods between Great Britain and the EU, as well as rules when trading with Northern Ireland.

It will almost certainly be passed by the UK parliament this week, with Labour backing what it describes as a “thin” treaty, as the alternative would be a chaotic no-deal situation on 1 January.

And Mr Johnson has said that, although he accepts that “the devil is in the detail” of the deal, he believes that it will stand up to inspection from eurosceptics such as the European Research Group of Brexiteers.

But while Mr Johnson will have the support of most of his party, Tory grandee Lord Heseltine has called on MPs and peers to abstain when voting on the deal, which he warned will inflict “lasting damage” on the UK.

The Scottish National Party has confirmed that it will vote against the deal, with its Westminster leader Ian Blackford describing it as an “unforgivable act of economic vandalism and gross stupidity”.

Labour shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds told Sky News that while it was a “relief” that a deal had been secured, there was still a lot of concern among businesses.

“There will be people struggling to understand what this deal means for them – this is a real scramble for a lot of businesses to get ready for,” she said.

Meanwhile, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said she expects to sign a continuity trade agreement with Turkey this week.

The move was not possible until the deal with the EU was struck because Ankara is in a customs union with the bloc.

Analysis: One of the final hurdles cleared for Brexit trade deal

By Adam Parsons, Europe correspondent

In Brussels, there are only two hurdles left for the Brexit deal to clear before it can be put into action on 1 January.

The first is imminent and straightforward; the other one slightly bends time, because it won’t happen for weeks.

Job number one is to get the rubber-stamp of approval from EU members states.

The first element of that has already happened, with ambassadors from all 27 countries granting their approval at a meeting this morning.

What follows is written consent, but (barring a truly extraordinary last-minute hiccup) that won’t be a problem.

What we then get is the provisional application of the deal.

Provisional because the European Parliament has to give its consent before the agreement is truly ratified, and that won’t happen until weeks into the New Year.

By then, problems or disputes will have become much clearer, which might give the European Parliament a little more bite in its discussions, and perhaps lead to a demand for new mechanisms or changes.

Its members think they have been marginalised and are angry that their permission will be sought only after the deal has actually come into action.

But despite that tension, it’s extremely unlikely that they will retrospectively block the agreement.