KANBrief 1/17

Brexit and standards: a view from BSI

On 23 June last year the United Kingdom (UK) held a referendum to decide whether it wished to remain in the European Union. The result was to leave – by a small but clear majority. Brexit will see the UK’s relationship with Europe, and the wider world, change. However, this does not mean isolation and in the independent European standards system BSI’s stakeholders are committed to continue to work directly with European partners.

The UK Government has stated that it will invoke Article 50 of the EU Treaties in March this year. Once the Brexit negotiation phase commences, the UK and the EU will need to consider an enormous range of issues. The UK Government has been working hard to make the necessary preparations. It has created two new Government departments (Department for exiting the European Union; Department for international trade), delivered a comprehensive review of the relationship between the UK and the EU, and has held conversations with a wide range of stakeholders to understand the needs of UK business and society regarding Brexit.

The area of British standards, and their relationship with European and international standards, is one that has been considered. Essentially, standards are a business tool that enables trade nationally and internationally. As part of this function, a large minority of European standards (approaching 20%) assist companies to demonstrate legal compliance. Technical regulation and standards, and their interaction especially, is an important area for Brexit. The New Approach to technical harmonization involves a detailed and sophisticated relationship between regulators and European standards makers, especially in the development of harmonized standards as the most straightforward means of compliance for manufacturers.

Does Brexit mean withdrawal from the European standards system? BSI (British Standards Institution), the UK’s National Standards Body, plays a full and active role in the European standards system, holding over 80 CEN and CENELEC technical committee secretariats, and UK experts provide over 500 committee chairs and working group convenors. Since the referendum was announced, we have been investigating the potential impacts of Brexit and working closely with the UK Government to ensure the best result for UK standards developers and users; also for the broader membership of the European Standards Organizations. Our response to this question about withdrawing from the system of European standards post-Brexit is an emphatic ‘no’. BSI’s ambition, one which we are confident we can achieve, is to stay a full member of CEN, CENELEC and ETSI post-Brexit.

Why do we believe we can achieve this? The European standards system is completely different to and separate from the EU’s regulatory system. The European Standards Organizations are not agencies of the EU and their membership is broader, with 34 countries (the National Standards Bodies of the 28 EU Member States, plus the EFTA countries Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, and Turkey, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia). They are independent, and entirely private organizations. Independence is a critical principle of European standardization and BSI considers it essential that it is not compromised by Brexit, or, indeed, by any other developments in the future.

BSI remains fully committed to the European standards system, to working with our European partners, and in particular to the ‘single standard model’: the identical adoption as national standards of all European standards and the withdrawal of conflicting standards, leading to one standard across the 34 countries for each aspect of a product or service where industry best practice is needed.

We have been consulting UK stakeholders: business and industry, consumers and others. We have asked them whether they see a need to remain full members of the European Standards Organizations and they have, nearly without exception and across a range of sectors, agreed that this is critically important. UK business does not want to be isolated from the rest of Europe: they do not want to go back to having separate production lines for different countries, and they see great value, both now and going forward, in working with standards makers from across Europe to develop together the best practice standards that enable reciprocal market access today. BSI will continue to stress this as the UK-EU negotiation process gets underway, and to work closely with UK Government, with the CEN and CENELEC members, and with other partners to explain the benefits of standards for European trade and how they are distinct from regulation, and to maintain UK commitment to the single standard model (more information on BSI and Brexit). 

Richard Collin
Head of European and National Policy
British Standards Institution