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14/09/2021

A new stand-alone UKCA (UK Conformity Assessed) safety and quality assurance mark has been kicked even further into the long grass, as Brexiteer “sovereignty above all” ideology collides with the real world. BDN financial editor Roger Willis reports.

Conceding that businesses won’t be able to achieve UKCA compliance for their products by an official cut-off date of January 2022, the government has now extended ongoing recognition of the European Union’s CE mark to January 2023. Astute commentators believe a multi-faceted British testing regime built from scratch to replace CE certification on a like-for-like basis will be unable to meet that target either.

The whole subject is made more farcical by the fact that, in most instances, there was no intention to differ from EU industry standards anyway. Domestic firms and foreign participants would therefore be submitting exactly the same paperwork to gain both UKCA and CE approval. And, in addition, the key British Standards Institute has remained a member of the European organisation that co-ordinates compliance.

A core problem is British-based authorising bodies in many specialist areas simply don’t exist yet. For instance, the automotive sector has cited an absence of necessary UK testing capacity for the pyrotechnics employed in car air bags, which would stop sales of European-manufactured vehicles on our shores

And an increasing number of manufacturers in Europe and elsewhere are proving reluctant to bear the burden and costs of recertifying for the UK market, where they supply in only modest volumes of goods or components, so serious gaps in British supply chains may emerge. Complications come from having to certify the processes used to make widgets, as well as the actual widgets, too.

Financial Times columnist Helen Thomas recently described the ludicrous history of UKCA in a scathing piece entitled “Bonkers Brexit battle persists on product standards”. She pointed out it only surfaced in February 2019 as a contingency measure, if the UK left the EU without a trade deal in place, although the CE mark would also be unilaterally recognised for some unspecified period after that.

When Boris Johnson seized power a year later, abandoning compromise on rule-taking and the desire for frictionless trade, such a position was ditched in favour of imposing UKCA when transition ended in January 2021. Apart from an unfeasible time-scale, Thomas noted that EU negotiators then inconveniently refused to replicate the mutual standards recognition agreement it had in place with other countries like Canada. So that date suddenly fell by the wayside in September 2020 and a unilateral nod to CE played into extra time — since extended once more. And she felt that it’s entirely possible this issue will come around again.