In the short term the UK economy appears to have weathered that initial vote-to-leave shock but as industry looks forward to tackling the reality of Brexit, where does the construction industry stand in terms of standards and regulations and what are the implications for construction marketing?
The British Standards Institute (BSI) is one of 33 voting members of CEN (European Committee for Standardisation). However CEN rules state that you can only join CEN if you are a member of the EU or about to become a member. In the case of non-EU countries including Norway and Switzerland, their membership in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) qualifies them as well. When the UK finally leaves the EU it will therefore be essential for the UK to rejoin EFTA otherwise the BSI will have to argue for a change in statutes of CEN so that they can continue their membership of this organisation. The economics suggest a solution will be found, however, there could be political pressure to keep us out.
What could this mean for the UK and where would the UK construction industry stand if the UK it walked away from the EU standards table? Any product intended for sale in the EU must meet the relevant EU standard. Non-compliance will clearly restrict markets. One of the key things about EU standards is that they do ensure a level playing field and are considerably better than each country having a different standard and system of compliance.
To add to this, the Construction Products Regulation (CPR) has, since 2014, mandated that all products produced for sale in the EU provide a declaration of performance and visible CE mark. In their BREXIT negotiation, the UK Government would be able to ignore the CPR and revert to BS standards instead of BS EN standards. This would complicate matters and create the prospect of a two-tier standards system. Hopefully this is unlikely but if it did occur it would mean manufacturers having to introduce different production runs and increased stock levels.
Does it matter if we move back to just British Standards? Some British Standard testing is outdated and not as relevant to today’s working practices as it was. In the UK we’ve often clung to some standards out of ‘habit’ when more representative standards exist.
At the moment the UK has a vote and we can influence EU standards, and on occasions UK businesses, in theory, could ‘block’ standards that we did not like or push to modify them. In a post-BREXIT environment, the UK could provide technical input, but in the end in the end it might not have a vote – unless of course we negotiate one.
Whatever the outcome the costs to industry if we totally abandon EU standards could be vast, pushing up costs to UK-based manufacturers and cause confusion among customers, or we just have to fall in line without any influence.