Change to EU holiday destination rules could see disabled holidaymakers at risk

Disabled tourists could be hit with a massive inconvenience after the government admitted British disability blue badges are no longer being recognised across Europe as a result of Brexit.

Prior to our withdrawal from the European Union, EU membership had afforded automatic recognition of the 2.4 million blue badges relied upon by disabled users across the country, in member states.

But this recognition was stopped across Europe on 31 December 2020 when the EU transition period ended.

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Ministers had vowed to negotiate individual deals with EU countries to recognise British badges, but one year on they have still failed to come to an agreement with the most popular holiday destinations, including France, Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal – leaving many disabled people uncertain about their ability to travel abroad.

It is believed that the countries are resistant to recognising British badges because of the difficulty local officials and parking wardens face when verifying the authenticity of non-EU badges, as they no longer share a common and easily identifiable design.

With global cases of covid continuing to rise, most people are putting their holiday plans on hold – a move which is believed to be the reason why the issue has gained so little publicity in recent months.

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But disability access campaigners across the country have said the issue needs addressing now, or the government risks letting disabled people down and making it harder for them to return to normality, post-pandemic.

The uncertainty of the situation is so profound, that government ministers have even recommended that anyone with mobility problems travelling abroad should check with the embassy of the country they are visiting to make sure their access needs are met.

Blue badges are a crucial lifeline for many disabled people and entitle holders with mobility difficulties to use disabled parking spaces.

Up until now, the badges had shared a similar appearance to the EU issued badges, making them easily identifiable to foreign officials, but following Brexit, the EU flag was removed from the badges, along with their blanket acceptance in member states.

In an interview with The Independent, Fazilet Hadi, head of policy at Disability Rights UK,said: “For many disabled people, a car with a blue badge is the only option for being able to leave home. The Blue Badge enables visits to family and friends, trips to shops, restaurants and cinemas, and visits to the doctor or hospital.”

She said it was “essential that Government ensures that Blue Badges are recognised across Europe to ensure that disabled people enjoy the same opportunities to travel”.

Baroness Sal Brinton, the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesperson in the House of Lords also commented on the issue. “It is deeply disappointing that the government appear to have let this issue drop down their agenda,” reports the Independent.

“Disabled people already face a huge wave of difficulties others do not when trying to travel, either for work or for a holiday and this is yet another barrier for them.”

A wheelchair user herself, Baroness Brinton also added: “By failing to secure a reciprocal deal on blue badge use, the Conservatives are letting disabled people down. The UK Government should renew their focus – reaching an agreement is clearly in everyone’s interest.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said “Negotiations on Blue Badge recognition are ongoing between the UK and individual EU States, and motorists can always contact their embassy for advice or assistance if they need it.”

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