Before Brexit the UK was renowned for ‘gold-plating’ EU laws with extra red tape. With a 7% drop in real incomes forecast over the next two years, and the UK needing to generate economic growth, the objective should be to roll back red-tape barriers to growth rather than adding to the burden – yet the opposite is now happening, writes Philip Bushill-Matthews.
Earlier this year the European Parliament voted through legislation to standardise chargers for mobile phones and similar technical devices. Currently most manufacturers world-wide use the USB standard (Universal Serial Bus}. Apple prefers its own ‘Lightning’ charger which they claim is functionally more efficient, but this means that users with equipment from different suppliers need to buy different chargers. This is not just inefficient and costly for consumers but causes over £200m (and 11000 tonnes) of electronic waste annually.
From 2024 the USB-C charger will become mandatory under EU law, and all products sold within the EU Single Market must conform. This will also apply to Northern Ireland, although the UK has stated that it has no intention of following suit within mainland Britain. Brexit has given us the sovereign right to be contrarian and not to be bossed around by the EU.
At best it will be a pointless gesture as Apple is unlikely to produce two chargers, one for the UK mainland and one for the rest of the world which usually follows the EU lead in adopting common international standards. At worst it will ensure that older and less state-of-the-art Apple stock, unable to be sold elsewhere, will be dumped in the UK to the disadvantage of UK users. This is what the Hard Brexiteers will presumably highlight as yet another ‘Brexit Opportunity’, this time for sovereign British sockets. Ideology is taking precedence over common sense.
But there is another decision coming up the straight which will uniquely disadvantage the UK even more, again completely unnecessary and affecting thousands of manufacturers with extra cost and bureaucracy.
Since 1993 the letters ‘CE’ (“conformité européenne”) appear on a range of products traded throughout the EU Single Market and European Free Trade Area (EFTA). Food products are not included. CE marking confirms that the manufacturer has checked that such products meet EU safety, health or environmental requirements and comply with all relevant EU legislation. Without this certification such products cannot be traded within the EU or EFTA.
It is a simple system which minimises red tape and costs and maximises consumer confidence – which is why Turkey has decided to opt in. Because it has been determined by the EU the UK has naturally decided to opt out, exercising its sovereign right to create further unnecessary red tape for doing business in the UK by insisting on its own UK Conformity Assessed (UKCA) mark to show a product is safe.
The Construction Leadership Council has noted that many global suppliers are stopping trading with the UK entirely because of these self-imposed difficulties. Because the UK has no facilities to test certain building supplies, some UK exporters are moving abroad. The UK Construction Products Association has highlighted the example of radiators: with only one UK testing facility available, it would take 75 years to test and certify them all.
The reality is that UK manufacturers will still need to conform to the EU CE marking if they want to sell to the EU (+ EFTA or Turkey): they will just have to follow the additional red tape of UKCA certification to sell within the UK. However, as with the new USB-C charger, Northern Ireland will not need to suffer the burden of UK certification because the CE mark will be valid there thanks to the NI Protocol.
The change was supposed to take effect at the end this year though delays have just been announced. Across industry the clamour is growing to stop this bureaucratic nonsense completely, but Government ideology again dictates otherwise.
However there is even more self-inflicted red tape to come. The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022 aims to review, remove and replace as necessary 2417 EU laws (although this number has recently been substantially revised upwards) by the end of 2023. This is a massive task and again completely unnecessary. While I was an MEP over 97% of EU legislation was either supported by the UK or proposed by us in the first place!
Business leaders have written to the Government stating clearly that the bill will ‘prove costly and bureaucratic and would undermine the certainty and stability that workers and businesses need if the economy is to prosper’.
UK Conservatives are right to be worried about losing seats they gained from Labour at the last election, the so-called ‘Red Wall’: if they continue increasing red tape they will lose the whole country.
The author, Philip Bushill-Matthews, is Former Leader of the British Conservatives in the European Parliament.