Before discussing any implications of Brexit for UK standards and regulations, let us remind ourselves what are standards and why are they important. Standards are a range of powerful marketing and business tools for businesses and institutions of all shapes and sizes. They can be used to adjust performance and manage risks, while operating more sustainably and efficiently. They allow businesses and institutions to demonstrate the proof of quality for their products & services to potential customers and can assist to merge best practices into the corporate structure. Standards represent a range of very coherent ways of information sharing between governments and businesses about what should be considered as a norm.
The British Standards Institution, (aka BSI, which produces technical standards on a wide range of products and services, and also provides certification and standards-related services to businesses), has been appointed by the UK Government (HMG) to act as the UK National Standards Body (NSB). In this role, BSI is responsible for the structures that enable the UK to participate in national, European (please note – ‘European’, not EU) and international standards-making systems and for overseeing the range of these standards which are currently valid in the UK.
Through the BSI, the UK participates in the European (please note again – ‘European’, not EU) Standardisation System, with BSI as a full member of CEN (European Committee for Standardisation), CENELEC (European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation) and ETSI, as well as in two international standards-making systems ISO and IEC.
This is a very important distinction. Although CEN, CENELEC and ETSI develop European standards, not ‘EU standards’ (they include NSB from countries outside the EU, including Ukraine, and are not official agencies of the European Union but rather private members associations owned by their members including BSI, are entirely private bodies, and therefore not part of the EU’s institutional framework), nevertheless, their standards are “EN” EU (and EEA) standards, according to EU Regulation 1025/2012.
Such ‘Single Standard model’ is valid among many industries and enables companies and individuals to work and trade in the EU single market. This principle is called reciprocity, to make business as smooth as possible across national borders.
The overwhelming majority of standards being in existence in the UK are international in nature (over 95%), while the number of UK-only standards is rather small. Over 1,500 of them are withdrawn annually (e.g. there used to be 160,000 British Standards, now reduced to 19,000 Single Standards).
However, some standards are conjoined with relevant EU regulations (less than 20% in Europe) and are known as ‘harmonised standards’ (we have discussed them briefly in a previous blog).
Immediately after the Brexit referendum in 2016, the British Standards Institution , has conducted a webinar on the Brexit implications for standards and regulations in the UK. This webinar was further endorsed/supported in 2018 by another BSI statement.
As regard CEN and CENELEC. the BSI’s continued membership should not accordingly be affected by Brexit. Some adjustment to the internal rules of CEN and CENELEC may be necessary to assure this and steps are in hand to bring this about. There are no such adjustments required in the case of ETSI.
If the UK does not maintain its full membership of CEN and CENELEC through BSI, British stakeholders would lose their influence over the content of the standards used in the 33 other member countries and British industry would face increased barriers to trade (BSI membership of the two international standardization organizations, ISO and IEC, will be unaffected by the UK’s exit from the EU).
In its position paper “European standards and the UK” the BSI raised a series of five principal questions:
1. What are standards and why are they important for industry?
2. What is the European Single Market?
3. What benefits do European standards bring to the European Single Market?
4. How are these benefits delivered?
5. What would be the impact of a UK exit from the EU in terms of UK participation in the European standardization system?
In the same paper the BSI attempted to offer some solutions, which in their opinion will be instrumental in maintaining the status quo. We will analyse some important points of this position paper in the subsequent blogs.