In the world of product compliance, Brexit was presented as an opportunity for the UK to relieve itself from the requirements of EU product compliance law and to go its own way. Now less than three years beyond the UK's formal exit from the EU, the UK has effectively conceded defeat in this aspiration in the Government's announcement that CE marked products may continue to be sold in the UK indefinitely. For many, this is a victory for pragmatism over dogma.
CE markings were set to be replaced entirely in the UK by UKCA product markings. Large sections of the UK and EU business community had long questioned the wisdom of this approach and the potential upside. It would see the requirement for the costs of product compliance for both the EU and UK markets at a time when cost pressures for business are mounting and served to identify the prospect that if standards diverged over time between the UK and its nearest trading bloc, there would be a need for multiple production lines for manufacturers if the standard of a de-regulated UK manufacturing process did not meet the standards of the EU.
The change was due to take effect initially on 1 January 2022 and many businesses invested considerable time, effort and cost to implement changes during the transition period. Signs that the UK Government was considering its position became apparent as the transition period was extended and then extended again to 2024. All of this was against a background of logistical challenges in establishing a sufficient critical mass of UKCA compliance infrastructure to sign off on product compliance.
Now, in August 2023, the UK has announced an indefinite extension to the continued use of CE markings beyond the current transition period deadline of 2024, stating in its official announcement "As part of the government’s drive for smarter regulation, the extension will cut business costs and time required to place products on the market and benefit consumers". Kevin Hollinrake MP, Business Minister was quoted alongside the announcement that the decision was "tackling red tape, cutting burdens for business, and creating certainty for firms...". The burden now spoke of had been sold originally as an opportunity.
There are significant questions as to where this now leaves the UKCA compliance industry that has had to be built to meet the prospective transition. If businesses are capable of using CE markings for the sale of products in the UK, it is questionable why they would also continue to pursue the administrative cost and effort of UKCA markings. The decision also to extend indefinitely the ability to use CE markings calls into further focus and questions the UK's decision to remain outside of the Safety Business Gateway (formerly RAPEX), the EU's reporting portal for matters of product safety. The European Commission has reported that nearly 2200 dangerous products were removed from sale in 2022 further to reporting through the Safety Gate System.
The decision to extend CE markings indefinitely will be welcomed by many in business and may not be the last development in the evolving product compliance field so far as it concerns changes brought about by Brexit.
"By extending CE marking use across the UK, firms can focus their time and money on creating jobs and growing the economy." Business Minister, Kevin Hollinrake