Rishi Sunak’s government said companies can use the European Union’s product safety mark indefinitely, a climbdown on a post-Brexit plan to enforce the UK’s own standard that was criticized by businesses.
Companies can continue to apply for the EU “CE” label to sell goods in Britain, the Department for Business and Trade said Tuesday, instead of having to apply for the “UKCA” mark — a requirement that had been due to kick in from 2025.
The decision will mitigate one of the ironies of Brexit, which is that a project pitched as reducing red tape has in fact created new barriers to trade with Britain’s largest trading partner. Under the previous plan, businesses wanting to sell their goods in both the UK and EU faced an an extra hurdle to get both stamps on the same product, or even develop separate production lines.
Though narrowly focused on product safety, the U-turn goes to the heart of how Brexit was sold to the public, including by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In its “Benefits of Brexit” document published in January 2022, his government said it wanted “the best regulated economy in the world.”
The “UKCA” mark was meant to be part of that effort. But its potential effectiveness lay at the mercy of how the Brexit vote was interpreted. Many MPs on the right-wing of Sunak’s governing Conservative Party saw leaving the bloc as Britain’s opportunity to deregulate. In that scenario, the UK’s safety mark risked being perceived as less trustworthy than the EU’s own. In the event, Sunak appears to be conceding he’s happy with EU standards.
On the flip side, some Brexiteers are also likely to see the climbdown as another occasion in which the prime minister is watering down the impact of Brexit, after he moved to change rules regarding the terms of post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland. Sunak’s administration has also dropped a mechanism to remove all EU law from the UK statute book by year-end and moved to ease immigration restrictions for struggling industries.
A person familiar with the matter said the UKCA mark will still be used and recognized for goods being sold in the UK. The government is likely to sell the move as a sign of Sunak’s pragmatism on Brexit, and some business leaders welcomed the new plan. In the government’s press release, Make UK CEO Stephen Phipson called it a “common sense decision.”
“It should bring more confidence about doing business in the UK,” he said, “and recognizes the need to work with the reality of doing business.”