By Bev Haigh-Jones
Contributions from our readers are somewhat limited this month, but regular contributor Paul Giles has come up trumps again. Please remember, we welcome input on any relevant topic, you can contact us on: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This time Paul tells of the confusion that appears to exist within the hallowed halls of the cabinet office. (I know, hard to believe, isn’t it?) Surprisingly, in this particular instance the stance taken by Jacob Rees-Mogg appears to have been a sensible one. However, having installed JR-M as Minister for Brexit Opportunities, it appears that the title may be a courtesy only, as Johnson has overruled his first decision of any consequence.
Even with Brexit, still some space for humour!
Brexit allows the UK to “diverge” from the common product standards, known as “CE”, that have grown up with the EU over the 40 years. The issue is that in the past five years no-one has identified any significant areas in which the UK would benefit from said divergence.
This is excepting food standards. The concerns of the negative effects that cheap, imported USA “chlorinated chicken” could have on UK poultry farming have been allayed, however, given the long-term suspension of the UK/USA FTA talks.
The lack of Brexit benefits, divergence perhaps producing some, prompted the PM to appoint the Rt Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg MP to the new Cabinet Post of “Minister of State for Brexit Opportunities (and Government Efficiency)” on 8 February 2022.
JR-M set off with a flourish, asking the “Sun” readership if they knew of any. It is unclear how many responded or with what.
Undaunted, on 19 February, he seized on “think-tank” the Institute of Economic Affairs’ 13 February report recommending the cost-saving measure of “unilateral recognition” of the EU CE standard. In the absence of such recognition duplicate certification would be required from 1 January 2023 – i.e. CE plus the new, identical, “UKCA” mark. This would add production costs to any company selling to both UK and EU.
The IEA recommendation meant continued use of CE until reasons for divergence to UKCA had been identified. This would avoid at least the short-term duplicate administration of two identical certifications, aka two production lines. Brilliant; a Brexit benefit!
JR-M promoted this “Brexit benefit” recommendation in a Times interview on the same day, correctly saying “… doubling up on regulation is a non-tariff barrier”.
Regretfully, No.10 Downing Street did not agree. Apparently they said “doubling up” was the Brexit benefit and would stay as planned. It issued a press release advising that the new Brexit Opportunities Minister was “was only articulating broad ambitions … not policy” which is ministerial speak for “ignore whatever he said”.
Better luck next time!