Another nail was quietly hammered into Brexit’s coffin yesterday as the Department for Business and Trade announced that plans to force UK firms to adopt the UKCA (United Kingdom Conformity Assessed) mark by a December 2024 deadline have been “extended indefinitely”. It’s very hard to see that it will ever be resurrected, at least for the 18 product areas which come under the department’s control.
The idea of totally replacing the European Union’s CE (Conformité Européenne or European Conformity) mark is now essentially dead.
The official statement said the move followed “extensive engagement with industry” and was intended to “ease burdens and boost growth for the UK economy”. If the government had carried out extensive engagement with industry before the referendum or before negotiations began, it might have avoided this utterly humiliating climbdown.
Other departments with responsibility for medical devices, construction products, cableways, transportable pressure equipment, unmanned aircraft systems, rail and marine equipment and eco-design will make separate announcements. The DLUHC (Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Department) is already coming under pressure after it confirmed the change would not apply to the UK’s construction sector where UKCA marking will become mandatory by 30 June 2025.
The Construction Products Association (CPA) warned the government about not including the building industry in the announcement:
“We fear that policy makers do not fully understand or appreciate the gravity of this policy position not only for our sector and the construction industry, but indeed for any government ambitions related to the UK’s housing, schools, hospitals, infrastructure and wider built environment.”
It seems only a matter of time before that deadline is also abandoned.
UKCA: what’s the point?
Unless the UK drops all pretence that it can create an entirely separate product regulatory system, British industry faces a time and cost-sapping dog’s breakfast of different standards which apply to different sectors and in different parts of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland for example, already has its own UKNI mark specifically for products placed on that market.
The statement by business minister Kevin Hollinrake, MP for Thirsk and Malton, said:
“The extension will provide businesses with flexibility and choice to use either the UKCA or CE approach to sell products in Great Britain.”
But unless you intend to permanently limit yourself to selling a product only in mainland Great Britain, obtaining certification for the UKCA mark makes little commercial sense when the CE mark is accepted both in Europe and the whole United Kingdom.
The CEO of the manufacturer’s organisation Make UK, Stephen Phipson, said:
“This is a pragmatic and common sense decision that manufacturers will very much welcome and support. This announcement will help safeguard the competitiveness of manufacturers and aid the UK as a destination for investment.”
Over time, the use of the UKCA mark will surely atrophy and be forgotten.
So much for sovereignty …
However, obtaining a CE mark will come at a higher costs for UK firms since there are no official bodies in the UK with the authority to certify and issue a CE mark. The 2020 trade and cooperation agreement (TCA) contains no provision for mutual recognition of conformity assessment although the UK government pressed hard for it.
So, ponder this for a moment. Before some products can legally be sold into their own domestic market, British manufacturers in the relevant industries will have to submit detailed evidence and perhaps visit an authority located in an EU member state to obtain a CE mark confirming compliance with rules the UK has no influence over.
After marching under the banner of restoring total sovereignty, Britain will now be following many of the standards and regulations of the entity it has just spent seven years trying to wriggle free of.
If it wasn’t so tragic it might even be funny.