Consumer Safety in a Post-Brexit World

10/8/2019
Stacy Kivett

As we are all aware, in June 2016, British voters went against the grain and voted to leave the European Union (EU). This departure from the EU has not come without its obstacles, and like any breakup, the details can be messy. Former Prime Minister, Theresa May’s attempts to come to an arrangement with the European Union on an exit strategy was voted down three times. With a looming deadline of October 31, the responsibility of the exit terms is now in the hands of the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Without an agreement, the exit would be a no-deal arrangement.

While the House of Commons approved a bill to stop a no-deal Brexit, there is no guarantee of how things will play out. The implications are enormous. That’s why in June of this year the House of Commons released a briefing on product safety testing and safety marking in a “no-deal” scenario.

Under the terms of a no-deal Brexit, the UK would leave the single market and customs union. A customs union is an agreement that allows partaking countries to set common external tariffs, allowing goods to travel freely between those countries. The agreement, created in 1958, allows manufacturers to move goods and parts around the continent. This currently includes Britain and Northern Ireland. The UK would also lose membership in dozens of EU bodies that govern rules on everything from medicines to trademarks.

So, what does this mean for consumer safety? Unless a separation agreement is reached between the UK and EU by the October 31 deadline, safety marks issued by UK-based notified bodies will no longer be recognized by EU authorities post-Brexit. Currently, items marked with CE have been assessed and designated to be compliant with the EU regulatory requirements. Such items include toys, electrical equipment and machinery.

If a no-deal Brexit takes place, UK suppliers will be required to have products tested by an EU based notified body-an organization that has been designated to assess the conformity of certain products before being placed on the EU market, with the essential technical requirements-prior to them being allowed in the EU market.  For products intended for sale within the UK, they would be reclassified by UK-based notified bodies as “UK approved bodies.”

The headache for consumers will likely be when purchasing faulty goods from an EU retailer, and then attempting to obtain a refund, the process of which is likely to be more complex. One source of information that will continue to be available to UK consumers is the Rapid Exchange of Information System (RAPEX). RAPEX is an EU alert system for unsafe consumer products. RAPEX contains information about dangerous products, the risks of these products and the steps being taken at a national level to prevent or restrict marketing of the product. UK consumers will still be able to access the RAPEX system to see what EU product recalls have been issued.

Given the level of uncertainty surrounding the UK market, many companies are restructuring their businesses in response to the exit. This restructuring looks different for different entities, some are holding onto their cash and stocks as a buffer, and others are establishing headquarters in both the UK and EU. Although it is unclear what the future looks like for the UK and EU, one thing is certain, change is coming, and all eyes are on our neighbors across the pond. Stay tuned to learn about the latest developments as the October 31 deadline approaches.

 

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