Brexit driven queues at Dover and chaos at airports – thanks partly to Brexit driven staff shortages – are a nightmare for all, but doubly so for disabled travellers who may need assistance to get on the boat, train or plane.
Some of us have simply given up. Getting around Britain often involves a descent into that hell let alone trying to do it overseas. Unfortunately, for those brave souls still willing to take the plunge, getting there may be just the start of their problems.
Pre-Brexit, travelling by car on the continent was at least (relatively) easy. If you fancied an excursion, you loaded the vehicle with your equipment, got to your destination, found a disabled space, slapped on the blue badge and you were away.
France was an absolute joy in this respect. Coming from Britain, my family was actually surprised at how easily we found disabled spaces in Britanny and Normandy. Better still, the French seemed much more likely to respect them than the British are.
In Britain too many people take their cue from Tory MPs who are periodically pictured abusing disabled bays, before staging a contest for who can come up with the worst excuse. "The car park was chock-ablock and there were no spaces,” whined former Totnes MP Charlie Steen when he featured in the Daily Mirror. The four-by-four was only parked in the bay “for a short time” said a spokesman for Romford’s Andrew Rosindell after another incident. “A moment of thoughtlessness,” said Richard Drax, the South Dorset MP who parked across not one, but two bays a while back.
Nowadays, some European countries – whether in the EU or the European Economic Area – have opted to recognise the post-Brexit badge. They are: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland. Here’s to them.
Several, however, are classed as “undecided”, including some highly popular holiday destinations such as Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Portugal, Romana, Luxembourg, Lithuania and Slovenia.
What does undecided even mean? It’s not at all clear. Disabled Motoring UK, a charity, followed the UK government’s unhelpful advice to “check with the embassy” in the case of France only to get referred back to the UK government. Its people were given the runaround.
The charity is advising disabled travellers to try and check with parking officials locally if they’re travelling in an “undecided”. Using their badge may otherwise put them at risk of a fine, even getting towed.
If the UK government had “got Brexit done” properly, sensibly and professionally, this wouldn’t be happening. Unfortunately the government has no conception of how challenging it is to travel while disabled at the best of times. The odd minister may have stumbled across Frank Gardner’s twitter feed, in which the BBC journalist regularly chronicles how he gets stuck on planes, but that’s about it. Do we still have a minister for disabled people at the DWP? Anyone know who that might be?
Yes, I realise that the issue of whether you can or cannot use your blue badge in country X is not solely down to the UK government. The countries concerned could try a little harder too. It’s not Britain they’re dumping on, it’s disabled Britons who want to visit and spend money in their countries.
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That said, the ultimate responsibility still lies with the British government, which lied about Brexit and is still shamefully lying about Brexit as being some fluffy economic wonderland that was “done” when it is, in fact, an awful car crash, one which has kicked businesses travellers, expats, Europeans living here, and disabled Britons, in a very painful place.
I know, I know, all the major parties in this country start at “rubbish” before descending on a disability rights sliding scale (looking at you UK Labour).
But none are currently as bad as the shamelessly ableist Tory party, which has allowed this to happen and appears uninterested in doing anything about it beyond bleating “check with the embassy”.