Downing Street on Monday distanced itself from suggestions by the new Brexit Opportunities Minister that the UK could cut red tape by unilaterally agreeing to testing of industrial products by the EU and other countries.
Jacob Rees-Mogg this month endorsed a report by the right-wing think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs that the UK could “unilaterally recognize EU regulations and conformity assessments”.
He added to the confusion in Britain’s business community, which is bracing for a new national testing regime, when he told The Times there was ‘no point’ in the UK repeating testing that other countries have done to an acceptable standard.
But on Monday, Number 10 said Rees-Mogg was not setting out a new government position: ‘Our position has not changed.
Government officials confirmed that Rees-Mogg was articulating his grand ambitions for his new post rather than specific new policies on removing “non-tariff barriers” to trade.
Rees-Mogg’s apparent acceptance that the UK should unilaterally recognize tests carried out by the EU and other countries to avoid duplicating costs for businesses had puzzled industry groups.
A senior industry executive said such a policy, while attractive to many companies seeking to avoid Brexit red tape, would have “drove a coach and horses” through three years of government policy, which insisted that the UK create its own copying standards for the industry. goods and chemicals.
The government requires that from 1 January 2023 businesses wishing to place goods on the UK market must meet a new ‘UKCA’ safety standard, which largely replicates the EU ‘CE’ safety mark.
On a call with industry last week, officials from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy repeated warnings that companies needed to prepare for the new UKCA regime.
“We weren’t sure if this was a change in policy or if the minister was just working as a freelancer, but it looked like it didn’t go through the Whitehall government sausage machine,” added the executive.
A senior auto industry executive added that Rees-Mogg’s remarks had raised hopes that Downing Street may be about to change course on the issue. “It is disappointing that a senior government minister has such little understanding of the details of this critical area of regulation,” he added.
William Bain, head of trade policy at the UK Chambers of Commerce, said businesses were still not convinced the UKCA scheme was necessary or practical. “We need a clear message between governments that he is ready to listen well and act pragmatically in the interests of British businesses,” he added.
Despite the government’s insistence it was sticking to UKCA marks, there are signs the government is listening to industry complaints by twice extending the original deadlines to comply with the new scheme of standards.
The chemicals industry is in negotiations with Defra, the environment department, over how to reduce the burdens created by the new ‘UK Reach’ chemicals safety database after ministers announced that the registration of the program would be delayed for two years.
“It looks like the government is getting the message about the need to match standards,” said a person familiar with the discussions.
During the Brexit trade negotiations, industry consistently lobbied for the UK to reach an agreement with the EU to mutually recognize standards, such as the ‘CE’ safety and quality mark and the basic European Reach chemicals regulation database.
In this case, the EU refused to enter into such an agreement on terms acceptable to the UK. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has said Brexit means the UK must lose its place as the “regulation and certification centre” for goods and services entering the EU’s single market. EU.
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As a result, the UK launched the UKCA brand and its own version of the chemicals database, both of which met with strong resistance from business groups, who argued that the schemes created costs without gain.
Russell Antram, head of European trade at the CBI trade group, said that if the UK and EU were unable to reach mutual recognition agreements, unilateral recognition on the UK side would be a “step in the right direction” for many companies.
However, he warned that the UK’s unilateral recognition of the standards would not be without its problems, as it could expose UK exporters to more checks than EU exporters.
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