Driving abroad should there be a no-deal or ‘Hard’ Brexit

Green Cards

Whilst negotiations between the UK and EU continue there currently remains the possibility of a no-deal or ‘hard’ Brexit. In such a scenario there would be the automatic annulment of many agreements and mutually compatible laws which were designed to facilitate the movement of goods and people between the UK and other EU countries. The long-standing EU agreement regarding compulsory motor vehicle insurance also extends to EEA countries (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) as well as Switzerland, Andorra and Serbia. Thus should we reach 31st December 2020 without a deal then the following notes will also apply if you are planning to drive to or through any of those non-EU countries too.

This article does not attempt to detail every potential issue relating to the use of vehicles abroad in the event of a no-deal, driving licences or ECMT permits. Its aim is solely to advise you of the primary motor insurance issues to be aware of before you plan to use a UK registered vehicle in France, Belgium, Netherlands or other EU/EEA country via either a ferry or tunnel crossing.

First a bit of background. Before the UK joined what was then called the Common Market in 1973 it was a requirement for UK motorists to hold a Green Card when driving a UK registered vehicle abroad i.e. outside the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man. A Green Card acted as evidence to local Police that your UK motor policy had been extended to certain countries abroad, just as a cover note or certificate of insurance acts as evidence of third party cover in the UK. Up to 1973 a UK motor insurance policy only provided cover in and in accordance with the UK, CI and IoM Road Traffic Acts. To evidence you and your vehicle had at least third party cover in any foreign country, including the Republic of Ireland, a Green Card was necessary, usually issued upon payment of an additional premium. Under the Green Card system insurers in one country agree to have legal representation in other countries who also recognise the validity of a Green Card. This arrangement is primarily for protection of local citizens. It means that in the event of an accident abroad any local third party involved can bring a court case against you/your insurer in their own country rather than have to locate and appoint solicitors in the UK. (The same applies in reverse for foreign registered vehicles driven in the UK.) The Green Card system nowadays extends to all EU/EEA countries and many others outside e.g. Morocco and Ukraine.

In 1973, upon joining the Common Market, all UK motor insurers had to automatically provide at least the minimum third party cover in any Common Market country to be in accordance with Common Market law. This meant local Police in France, Belgium etc no longer needed to see evidence of third party cover via a Green Card for any UK registered vehicle. Over time most UK motor fleet insurers started to provide full policy cover, rather than just third party, on vehicles used abroad at no extra cost. Some non-fleet insurers followed suit. Many motor insurance certificates nowadays carry translations in all major EU languages evidencing cover – that is what the local Police would look for should you be involved in an accident.

This could all change on 1st January 2021. If your vehicle is abroad in the EU/EEA (or other countries listed above) then it will need a Green Card in the event of a no-deal. It may still need one even if there is a deal. Regrettably details of the overall UK/EU agreement have not yet been released by the negotiating parties as they want to conclude a complete agreement first before passing it to their respective Parliaments/governing bodies for approval.

As well as all vehicles, each trailer will need its own Green card too so please have such details to hand before contacting us. (Make, type [rigid/draw-bar or semi-trailer], serial or chassis number.) You may be denied access onto a ferry bound for the EU without Green Cards for your vehicle and trailer.

As will be noted, if you plan to deliver one trailer and return with a different one then details of both trailers will be needed. We accept this may present you with a logistical problem and remember you will have to physically hold a Green Card for the ‘return journey’ trailer before commencing your trip.

Some good news. A Green Card no longer has, literally, to be green. You will still need a hard copy but black ink on white paper is now acceptable. Therefore we will email you in black on white format, which you should print off on white paper (or green if you have already laid in a stock for this eventuality).

Most, but not all, insurers have now established online systems to facilitate the issue of Green Cards electronically. But you will still need to have a hard copy of it with you – ideally kept in the vehicle – not stored on your phone or other electronic device.

A few insurers are asking for 15 days’ notice which does perhaps seem excessive. But they, perhaps like you and ourselves, will be operating on reduced hours and fewer staff during the festive period. Therefore we ask you please give us as much notice as possible of any intended trip abroad.

Do note insurers may make an administrative charge for a Green Card. Practice will vary. In addition if your policy is not already priced up to include anticipated foreign use then the insurer is entitled to make a charge for the cover requested. This is because accident frequency is higher abroad for UK drivers and vehicle recovery costs can be greater than in the UK. Indeed sometimes a severely damaged vehicle deemed a total loss has to be returned to the UK. This is to avoid your insurer having to pay import duty on it if it were sold for its scrap value abroad.