Published: 16 Dec 2020

Daniel Moore speaks with Scott Steedman, Director of Standards at BSI, to find out how the organisation is preparing for the challenges of Brexit.

Daniel Moore: What Brexit and trade deal-related threats and opportunities are emerging in the field of voluntary standards for UK sectors and organisations?

Scott Steedman: The UK’s exit from the EU requires no immediate change to standards published by BSI. We will continue as a member of the independent European Standards Organisations: European Committee for Standardization (CEN), European Committee for Electro Technical Standardization (CENELEC) and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) after the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. This will ensure that our national stakeholders will continue to have the opportunity to influence the European regional standards that are vital to their business needs or interests.     

The UK’s exit from the EU also means that the official citation of voluntary standards to support regulatory conformity – a process carried out by the European Commission – will need to be carried out by UK Government from 1 January 2021 in a new UK-managed process. ‘Harmonised standards’ which support EU regulation and CE marking and are adopted in the UK as British Standards (BS EN) will be known as ‘designated standards’ and will support the new UKCA mark for regulatory compliance in Great Britain. BSI is helping the UK Government to deliver its policy in this area.

Standards play an important role in trade because they simplify market access for industry. UK experts take part in more international (ISO) committees than any other country, which helps to ensure that international standards reflect the interests of UK stakeholders. Encouraging the greater use of international standards in bilateral trade generally and pressing for use of international standards to be seen as a key part of the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) chapter of every trade deal, will further ensure that UK business and industry benefit from the maximum opportunities for frictionless trade.

We hope that the wording of UK trade agreements with other countries in the context of standards will create opportunities to build on the leading role currently being played by UK stakeholders in shaping and adopting international standards. However, we know that issues may arise in some negotiations, particularly around the definition of an international standard, which could have wider unintended impacts for UK industry sectors and organisations if they are not managed effectively.

We want to ensure that standards are recognised as international standards only where national stakeholders have a systematic opportunity through a formal governance process to have their voice heard in their development, similarly to what takes place at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and IEC. National representation is a fundamental tool to ensure that UK experts are heard and can influence the content of standards.

BSI enjoys a positive relationship and frequent contact with the Department for International Trade (DIT) on trade issues. I am pleased to have been recently reappointed as a member of DIT’s Strategic Trade Advisory Group (STAG).

DM: What key uncertainties remain as the UK government works toward the end of the transition period and commences trade deal discussions with other nations?

SS: We continue to engage closely with the UK Government to ensure a system is in place to inform the government about standards that can support the new UKCA mark in Great Britain, where national regulation is onshoring current EU regulation, in their new capacity as ‘designated’ standards.

We are working with government administrations on the use of standards in the UK internal market and the role that standards can play in enabling devolved decision-making, where appropriate, while not creating unnecessary trade barriers within the UK.

Good progress has been made in defining the future use of standards in the UK and we will continue to work with the government, through DIT, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to embed this thinking in trade policy, so that market access barriers are reduced for UK businesses entering global markets.

The UK is a leading member of the international and regional standards systems. The relationships that BSI maintains with other nations and their national standards bodies is critical to UK interests. We will continue to work intensively with our opposite numbers to keep them fully informed of our positions and plans for the development, maintenance and use of national standards in the UK post-transition.

DM: How is BSI responding?

SS: BSI is in regular contact with all relevant government departments to support them with their plans for the implementation of standards within the UK’s new regulatory framework and internal market. Of particular importance is our engagement with BEIS – which is responsible for standards policy – and with DIT on how best to hone trade policy to reflect the UK’s significant role in international standards-making and the value this brings to UK business and industry through streamlining market access opportunities.

We are also keen to ensure that parliamentarians are similarly informed of the importance of standards. I recently gave evidence in a House of Lords committee session on international agreements, where we discussed the role of standards to support regulation and how other countries manage their market frameworks, as a prerequisite to shape an optimum outcome for any future trade deal.

We have regular meetings and briefings with our industry, societal and regulatory stakeholders on the changes to the standards system to ensure their needs are well reflected on the positions we take internally and present to the government. Earlier this year, working with 28 stakeholder organisations, we published a report setting out the importance of UK influence in shaping international standards and how this should benefit future trade policy.  

Together with UKAS, the national accreditation body, and 23 other stakeholder organisations including TechUK and MakeUK, we have pressed for the creation of an advisory group to DIT on the subject of Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) to inform future trade policy.

Understanding the views of our stakeholders has been vital for BSI to articulate a clear and coherent position and to prepare for a new chapter in the UK. Our stakeholders are clear that standards affect a multitude of industries, both big and small, as well as consumers, professional users and the environment.

We are clear that post-transition the governmental framework that will oversee the use of national standards in the UK to support regulatory conformity will be very different to the experience of recent decades. We are committed to forging that future state in the national interest as swiftly and effectively as possible.

DM: How is BSI helping and guiding its customers through this uncertain time with Brexit?

SS: We send out regular communications to make sure our customers and businesses are aware of the changes and how they may affect them, including in our online tools for market access such as British Standards Online (BSOL) and BSI’s Shop.

We will update our standards webpages to help users to understand the concept of ‘designated standards’ and how they help support the new UKCA mark. We are also looking to develop more tools to help businesses to work through market access requirements, both within the UK internal market, with the introduction of separate Great Britain and Northern Ireland market areas, and for goods entering the EU.

Our website has a lot of information on how we understand that the system of designated standards and UKCA marking will work.

DM: How should quality professionals be responding and dealing with the Brexit challenges ahead?

SS: BSI maintains a catalogue of national standards that are used by industry, consumers and government and this will not change post-transition. We see British Standards as bringing continuity and stability to business and industry through the years ahead, which quality professionals can rely on and feel confident with implementing. The national standards collection will continue to be based predominantly on the adoption of international and European regional standards, consistent with the expectations of our stakeholders and in line with our policy position to streamline market access opportunities and accelerate innovation.

The UK has already switched to third country status within the European standards system and as the new obligations of UK membership of that system are worked through, we will make any changes as seamless and predictable as possible. However, changes are coming within the national regulatory system and we must ensure that these changes reflect the standards needs of our stakeholders.

We will provide as much information as possible on how ‘designated standards’ will be used to support the new UKCA mark. This should ensure that quality professionals across the UK have reliable processes in place to help minimise the challenges that they face at work. If you have specific questions on standards, including how they will support the UKCA marking, please get in touch.

DM: What will a deal/no deal outcome mean for BSI and the quality profession?

SS: From what we understand so far, we do not see any significant changes being made to the UK’s approach to the use of British Standards to support regulatory conformity in the UK internal market, whether a deal is signed or not.

BSI is working closely with the other members of CEN and CENELEC on changes to the membership statutes that are needed to reflect that the UK is neither an EU or a European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member. The statute changes will be agreed at the General Assemblies of CEN and CENELEC in June 2021, which will take effect from 1 January 2022 at the latest. We are confident that for all practical purposes, membership will continue as it does now. 

DM: What projects does BSI have in place to ensure its operations continue to run smoothly at the end of the transition phase this year?

SS: BSI’s Standards Policy Team has been leading our engagement work with BEIS to ensure that we can help the government deliver its ambition for an agile, designated standard process to support the UK’s independent regulatory framework. This work should ensure a seamless transition into 2021 in relation to the delivery of British Standards to support the new UK market regulatory framework.

This work has included monitoring the new statutory instruments that will transpose EU law into UK law ahead of the end of the transition period, and advising government departments, where necessary, to ensure that standards are properly referenced. BSI’s experts in production certification and medical devices have also worked closely with government officials to provide advice on conformity assessment practice and to support and prepare UK companies for the new UKCA marking requirements.

In addition to these initiatives, BSI is carrying out extensive stakeholder consultation to ensure that we have a detailed and accurate picture of the market, consumer and government viewpoint on all aspects of our operations. This has proven a valuable source of insight to inform our discussions with government officials on potential future trade agreements and on the use of standards to support regulatory conformity.

For further details on Brexit and how it could affect your business, click here.