Fishing protests a success – and this is only the start

Organisers Fishing for Leave welcomed the success of last Sunday’s demonstrations and thanked the hard work of members and the public for their support.

FFL says it is now important that the politicians pay heed to not only the fishermen but the thousands of people who turned out to support on the quaysides or this would just be the start.

Yet Mrs May said in Denmark that she wanted “fair and reciprocal” access to waters for the countries’ fishermen after Brexit.

Mrs May’s definition of ‘fair and reciprocal’ fishing access is probably as far away from the rest of the population as her idea of Brexit meaning Brexit. Access should only be on a needs must equal swap basis.

Sadly it seems Mrs May’s idea is the same as that of her predecessor Edward Heath. That Britain’s greatest natural resource and coastal communities are expendable negotiating capital as her capitulation to trapping Britain’s fishing in transition shows.

Theresa May needs to stop playing semantics and for once live up to her rhetoric of ‘let me be clear’ by having the decency to stop playing with real people’s lives, futures and businesses in coastal communities.

She must reverse the capitulation on fishing and categorically promise that we will be entirely free of the Common Fisheries Policy come March 2019. If not, she will consign another British industry to museum and memory as the EU culls what is left in the 21 months of the transition period.

PROTEST A HUGE EFFORT THAT’S JUST A POLITE START

All those from the industry who made the effort to turn out around the coast did a fantastic job and should be massively proud to represent and fight for their industry, communities and way of life. That is what this is all about for us. Milford Haven, Portsmouth and Hastings were all phenomenal efforts with excellent turnouts from along the coast. A “well done” must go to Weymouth for coming together at such short notice as well as Newcastle, where a “well done” is due to many North Shields fishermen who rose to the occasion on short notice.

Special mention must go to Plymouth for the sheer numbers and the artillery battery of fireworks launched and to Whitstable  where Chris and Luke’s symbolic burning of a boat was a show stopper finale that deservedly won top trumps.

To see so many younger folk at sea showed that this is an industry that has green shoots if they are given a chance to be nurtured. We’d like to convey a big thanks to all those who worked like Trojans to make this happen and the thousands of members of the public that came down to support the flotillas, ultimately our seas and fish stocks are the nation’s resource and as much theirs as anyone else’s. Some people even travelled to Plymouth from as far as Stoke-on-Trent!

These were peaceful protests conducted with black humour and high professionalism – even when Remainers chained themselves to the boat Thereason May that was about to be symbolically burnt.

However, these events weren’t a party but a full-blown protest. We’re sick to death of being malevolently and dismissively portrayed as being justifiably expendable when we are anything but. Fishing is a primary wealth generating industry providing food security and employment in ancillary industries in rural coastal areas.

Repatriating our fishing grounds and the 60% of the fish the EU catches in them is worth a potential £6-8bn every year to coastal and rural communities and can create tens of thousands of jobs.

For the remainers gleefully peddling the deliberate narrative that fishing doesn’t matter, we ask – how much is your job worth to the economy?  Something that the professional students who berated fishermen, claiming that remainers knew best about fishing in Whitstable should consider.

TRANSITION MEANS MORE BOATS WILL BE BURNT

The transition isn’t just 21 months to suck up but an existential threat and potential death sentence for what’s left of Britain’s fishing industry.

DEFRA’s  peddling the government line about “delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit” along with “safeguarding fishing communities” is laughable given obeying all EU law after Brexit means the EU is able to enforce detrimental policies to cull our fleet.

The EU has every incentive to do this as under international law, UNCLOS Article 62.2, if a nation is unable to catch all its resources it must give the surplus it can’t catch to its neighbour – the EU.

Our big fear is the ill-founded EU discard ban is to be fully enforced as of 2019. The EU’s inept quota system forces fishermen to discard half their catch to try find fish their quota lets them keep.

The ban addresses the discard symptom not the cause – quota. Vessels must stop fishing when they exhaust their smallest quota. These ‘choke species quotas’ will see the fleet tied up, boats and businesses at sea and ashore go bust.

The 12 mile limit that protects our inshore fishermen and nursery grounds can also be abolished upon withdrawal.

Despite DEFRA’s pathetic official protestations that “the UK’s share of catch could not be reduced over the transition period”, the EU commission has sole discretion to award and change resource shares and has every reason to do so  – to our detriment.

DEFRA’s statement that we will be ok because we ‘are working in good faith’ is pitiful given the EU has repeatedly said that a departing member must be seen to suffer.

We would love to know how DEFRA squares the bunkum that “by December 2020 we will be negotiating fishing opportunities as an independent coastal state” given obeying all EU law doesn’t end until 2021 with international fishing negotiations not agreed until that Autumn?

To sacrifice tens of thousands and communities to appease a few ideologically pro-EU vested interests is a second betrayal that would have dire electoral consequences for coastal MPs

Now coastal MPs must listen to the thousands who turned up at short notice and the many more members of the public who support this totemic industry or we will go up a gear or two. In other words, last Sunday will just be a polite start.

It is important that MPs in coastal constituencies remember they serve their constituents who elect them and not a dismissive chief whip. If MPs have any inkling of self-preservation they must heed what we are saying and put country before party. They must stand by and remember: “No deal is better than a bad deal” and that coastal constituencies count.

WELCOME MPs SUPPORT BUT MUST BE ACTION TO BACK WORDS

We welcome the statements of support from Owen Paterson, John Redwood, Sheryll Murray, Derek Thomas and Luke Pollard but are hugely disappointed that all the other MPs that were invited to show their support weren’t in attendance.

The politicians have now been told clearly that the transition is unacceptable – and why. It’s now time they honoured the vote and walked away from the transitional terms as it is clear the EU, in order to dissuade other countries from leaving,  is not prepared to offer a leaving member a deal worth more than a packet of smarties.

If they do not change tack and shovel fishing away in desperation for any deal, they will be guilty of a conscious second betrayal of thousands of lives, businesses and coastal communities and will be culled in those constituencies in the same way our fleet will be.

Fishermen are not going to take being thrown to the wolves lying down and these protests will just be the start if patriotism, decency and good sense do not prevail.

The great Brexit fisheries betrayal – it gets worse

Michael Gove and Theresa May between them are letting down our fishing industry when there is no need for them to do so. It seems that our Prime Minister is willing to sacrifice the livelihoods of thousands of men to save her skin after finding herself outplayed by the EU.

The parallels between Mrs May and her predecessor are becoming more apparent by the day. When David Cameron headed for Brussels to re-negotiate our membership in late 2015, it does appear that he genuinely believed that he could wring concessions out of the other 27 member states and come back with a deal which would be acceptable to the majority of the electorate. However, he set off with no well-thought out model in mind of how the UK could function in a semi-detached manner from Brussels – still within the EU but somehow pursuing a different path. Unsurprisingly, he got nowhere, only gaining a few minor cosmetic concessions rightly described by Jacob Rees-Mogg as “thin gruel“. Undeterred, Cameron ploughed on, tried to avoid admitting that his renegotiations had got nowhere, lost the referendum and resigned.

For Cameron’s “renegotiation”, read Theresa May’s “deep and special” relationship. From the start, it was based on wishful thinking with no clear idea either of the details of the relationship nor – and more  importantly – of how the EU works. Optimism that a trade deal would be easy to agree because of regulatory convergence soon dissipated as Michel Barnier repeatedly spelt out the EU’s intention to preserve the single market at all costs. Mrs May may not have realised what being a “third country” meant when she took over as Prime Minister and it is conceivable that the full implications still haven’t dawned on her, but she has been told in no uncertain terms that the EU is not going to give its former member preferential treatment.

What is more, having offered us thoroughly humiliating terms for any transitional period, the EU is already starting to talk tough about a final trading arrangement. All the indications are that in the critical area of fishing, she will roll over once again.

Just to remind ourselves, both Michael Gove and Mrs May consistently stated that we would leave the Common Fisheries Policy on 29th March 2019 and take back control of our Exclusive Economic Zone. However, the transitional deal does no such thing and both the Prime Minister and Mr Gove have been put on the defensive. Even after admitting that he had tamely surrendered on fishing, Mr Gove, questioned by the Lib Dem MP Alastair Carmichael, said:-

“There is a significant prize at the end of the implementation period, and it is important that all of us in every area accept that the implementation period is a necessary step towards securing that prize. For our coastal communities, it is an opportunity to revive economically. For our marine environment, it is an opportunity to be managed sustainably. It is critical that all of us, in the interests of the whole nation, keep our eyes on that prize.”

Other awkward questions have been deflected by saying “But we want to leave the CFP – and indeed the EU;  you don’t” or words to that effect. It is a smokescreen to disguise the betrayal of our fishermen. It is a complete myth that if we can endure 21 months of EU control of fisheries, all will be wonderful at the end of transitional period.  The EU’s new discard ban means that any fishermen who has used up his quota for just one species may not fish again that year. Fishing for Leave has not hid its anger. it intends to “mobilise and show our absolute disgust and heartbreak at our own government capitulating and sacrificing Britain’s fishing grounds and coastal communities to continued EU mismanagement.” Watch this space!

Of course, there is an element of points scoring by the other political parties who are making the most of the government’s discomfort on this subject, but it would be wrong to say that MPs like the SNP’s Brendan O’Hara of Argyll and Bute was acting purely from cynical motives when he said, “I strongly advise the Prime Minister to read SNP fishing policy before she comments on it, as she has it spectacularly wrong. Will she explain to the fishing communities of Argyll and Bute why she has agreed to a deal that keeps them in the CFP without a voice? Is that not the worst possible deal that her Government could have achieved for our fishing communities?”

He is quite correct – it is the worst possible deal. What has been overlooked by many commentators on this subject is the draft exit document contains the following in Article 125 part 4: “Without prejudice to article122(1) , the relative stability keys for the allocation of fishing opportunities referred to in paragraph 1 of this article shall be maintained.”

(Paragraph 1 relates to article 43(3) TFEU : The Council, on a proposal from the Commission, shall adopt measures on fixing prices, levies, aid and quantitative limitations and on the fixing and allocation of fishing opportunities.)

The relative stability keys are an allocation percentage per EU country by species for the sharing out of the quotas. The paragraph above makes it clear that EU can change them, allowing them to take what they like out of UK waters. In that case, it will be of little consequence whether or not the EU  insists on access to UK waters as part of a long-term trade deal. there will be no fishing industry left in our country anyway.

Yet all Mrs May can say in the face of rising cross-party anger about the sell-out of our fishing industry is, by implication, to criticise the fishermen. She said “Although I recognise that not everyone will welcome the continuation of current trading terms for another ​21 months, such an implementation period has been widely welcomed by British business because it is necessary if we are to minimise uncertainty and deliver a smooth and successful Brexit.” Who else could she be referring to when mentioning those who will not welcome 21 months of the current trading terms?  Fishermen can clearly be sacrificed to keep everyone else happy. She also dodged a question from Jeremy Corbyn when he raised the subject as one of a number of questions about the government’s change of  tack over Brexit:-

Our coastal and fishing communities were told by the Environment Secretary only this month: “The Prime Minister has been clear: Britain will leave the CFP”— common fisheries policy— “as of March 2019.” Just a few weeks later, we find out that that will not be the case”, he said. The Prime Minister replied to some of his other comments but studiously ignored the issue of fishing.  

Our friends in Fishing for Leave have many years of campaigning experiences and do not intend to roll over.  Do not be deceived by the support from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation for this deal. This organisation represents those who have bought quota, not ordinary fishermen, who are absolutely livid.

It is possible that fishing could be the issue which provokes the crisis we have long been expecting. To repeat what we said then,   “it may require some senior heads to roll if the transitional blind alley is to be averted. it is a case of holding on to your hats.” Indeed; a Brexit which throws away what could have been a success story and sacrifices  thousands of UK jobs is no Brexit at all.

The fantasy of a “frictionless” trade agreement

Mrs May and Mr Davis’ oft repeated aspiration for ‘frictionless’ trade with the European Union (EU) via a free trade agreement (FTA) and mutual recognition of standards will in reality consign the United Kingdom to being a permanent EU vassal stateBrexit will be in name only, with “stay, pay, obey without a say” being the outcome of their mishandling the Brexit negotiations.  The transition agreement, which turns the UK into an EU vassal state thanks to completely caving in to unreasonable demands by the EU, is a forerunner of even worse things to come. The transition deal (partially agreed, although a long way from being ratified) is vastly inferior to the deal which they could have obtained, but rejected out of hand as far back as Mrs May’s Lancaster House speech 17th January 2017. We could have retained our membership of the Single Market (and wider European Economic Area, EEA) through re-joining, even temporarily, The European Free Trade Association, EFTA. This alternative, also known as the ‘Norway Option’, could have delivered practically ‘frictionless’ trade and a soft border on the isle of Ireland.

At the heart of Mrs May and Mr Davis’ highly risky, far-fetched and delusional approach to Brexit is a failure to understand the nature of the EU, the European Economic Area (EEA), EFTA’s working relationship with the EEA including the EEA Agreement, mutual recognition of standards and how world trade works.  They make the most basic mistakes and repeat factually incorrect or incomplete statements to support their contradictory desire to leave the Single Market while retaining the same level of market access through an FTA.  They appear unwilling to take cognisance of readily available facts that completely disprove their fatuous mantras.

The details of what will happen after the UK leaves the EU (and the EEA) are there for anyone to see on the EU’s dedicated website  – especially in the increasing number of “Notices to Stakeholder”s under Brexit preparedness) It makes somewhat chilling reading.  There is nothing equivalent on the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union’s website. Presumably either they haven’t done this vital work or have chosen not to share it – a truth too awful to tell?

Upon leaving the EU and the EEA we would become a ‘third’ country. We would then be subject to different requirements by the EU in order,  at best, to manage the risks (to consumers and others) of doing business with us (or any other ‘third country’ outside the Single Market or EEA) and, at worst, to erect protectionist trade barriers in favour of domestic EU enterprises.  From the EU’s perspective, they will not grant concessions to ‘third’ country suppliers outside their control which are not enjoyed by EU domestic suppliers, especially when these could increase risks or create an ‘unfair’ competitive advantage.  The EU also has to treat the UK the same as any other ‘third’ country in order to comply with World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreed requirements or principles.

The EU is developing the Single Market by harmonising standards, regulations, and enforcement or surveillance within a top down centralised legalistic and bureaucratic framework under their supervision and control. It is also a long-established declared ambition that ‘third’ countries (outside the EU, or wider European Economic Area, EEA) would adopt or follow at least some EU-style measures.  The EU’s approach (to products) is outlined in principle in COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL AND THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT Enhancing the Implementation of the New Approach Directives and in more detail in the EU’s Guide to the implementation of directives based on the New Approach and the Global Approach .

For the EU, mutual recognition of standards (which differ from theirs) has limited application, since it is not their preferred choice where harmonised standards (in their widest context) exist.  In any case, there is the practical complexity and increased cost of demonstrating equivalence and compatibility, which can be far from straightforward and unacceptable to consumers and users.  To take a simple illustration, traffic lights using green on top for ‘stop’ and red underneath for ‘go’ certainly provides equivalent functionality but are far from compatible and acceptable.  Also test values from subtly different tests may mean a product is (theoretically) less safe rendering it unacceptable or requiring expensive (or impractical) re-design, which in turn may invalidate other test results and/or existing certification/approvals.  (See also the Fallacy of Easy Mutual Recognition of Standards).

The EFTA/EEA option is not perfect, but is far more favourable to the UK’s interests than the transitional deal on offer or indeed, to what will eventually emerge as Mrs May’s FTA and ‘deep and special relationship’. Norway participates in the EEA through membership of EFTA. Actually it only implements EU legislation necessary for functioning of the EEA, which at most constitutes around 25% of the total EU acquis or system of laws. More than 90% of these EEA related laws reportedly originate in global bodies, meaning the UK would need to implement them anyway for global trade, unless we leave the World Trade Organisation (WTO), et al. Also the EFTA route to EEA membership gives members outside the EU a say in EU legislation affecting the EEA, is largely free (although ‘voluntarily’ Norway does contribute to regional development funds) and is outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). What is more, EFTA members make their own trade agreements with other countries.

Contrary to statements by M. Barnier and Mrs May about the four indivisible freedoms, EFTA/EEA membership contains the facility to control immigration. Two members of EFTA have unilaterally invoked Article 112 (the Safeguard Measures) of the EEA Agreement to restrict free movement – Liechtenstein for people and Iceland for capital. The UK could do so too if we retain membership of the EEA by re-joining EFTA.  Ironically, Articles 112 and 113 of the EEA agreement, which Mrs May rejects, are reproduced closely by the EU in their draft Withdrawal Agreement, Article 13 (Protocols NI), allowing the EU unilaterally to restrict freedom of movement (including immigration into the EU from the UK).

Continuing membership of the EEA solves the problem of maintaining a soft border in Ireland between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, thus avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK (something Mrs May has ruled out, for the moment).  It also gives us full control of fishing in our Exclusive Economic Zone.  The EEA agreement (for EFTA members) can be adapted to suit their interests.  Thus the UK (within EFTA) could get a bespoke version.  So we could ‘imitate, adapt and improve’ on the existing EEA agreement to suit our needs rather than follow an insular and amateurish effort to ‘re-invent the FTA wheel in a few months’ that isn’t going anywhere.

From the beginning, the EU negotiators completely dominated the Brexit negotiations. It was inevitable then that negotiating concessions (or cave-ins) would be made by weak, dithering and clueless Mrs May and Mr Davis to strong, decisive and professional M. Barnier and his team. Comparing the EU’s draft Withdrawal Agreement with the text agreed by the UK shows just how much the increasingly uncompromising EU is getting its way.  Worse still, the EU is getting away with demands that are over and above those necessary for trade, with more already in the pipeline (such as fishing, defence, defence procurement, locking UK into EU budgets etc.).  If you thought the Transitional Deal was bad, wait until you see the final withdrawal agreement and the FTA.

Fishing – Keep up the pressure!

Most readers will have head about Fishing for Leave’s demonstration against the surrender of our fishing industry outside Parliament yesterday. Although a much smaller scale event than the flotilla of fishing boats which sailed down the Thames in June 2016, a valid point was made.

Growing Parliamentary opposition to the surrender on fishing could scupper the whole transitional deal, which would  unquestionably be a good thing. In order to keep up the pressure on our MPs, if you haven’t already done so, please sign this petition and pass it on to your friends.

Fishing could be a real Brexit success story. It is an iconic industry and fishermen enjoy widespread public support, especially given their scandalous treatment since 1973 in order to join the European project. The Government has apparently been taken aback by the scale of the protest over the surrender on fishing. Sadly, as the linked article suggests, this suggests that “Theresa May’s team has never entirely “got” Brexit”. Perhaps, but this is no excuse for such an unnecessary sell-out and we must make it very clear to them that it is unacceptable.

 

Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed

Before readers start getting too angry about the agreement between David Davis and Michel Barnier over the terms for an interim relationship with the EU, it must be pointed out that the handshake between the two men does not mean that everything is done and dusted.

The transitional arrangements are only part of an overall deal which have to be approved by the European institutions and national parliaments, including our own. We are still a long way from reaching this point.

On this website, we have already explained why the transitional terms on offer from the EU are unacceptable. It will be very hard to follow it with a truly clean break. We most certainly don’t need to be shackled to the EU’s customs union and any ongoing participation in the Common Fisheries policy would be the ruination of our fishing industry. Fishing for Leave didn’t mince its words in a recent press release – it is nothing less than a capitulation by a weak government.

Just to remind readers about our fisheries:- The UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles/median line was established by a British Act of Parliament – the Fishery Limits 1976 Act – but because of our membersip  of what was then the EEC, that zone was promptly handed over to the EEC, to become EEC/EU waters, right up to the low water mark, and the resource within that zone also became EEC/EU resource, managed by them and not us.

In 1983 the EU established the quota system, shared out amongst the member states by means of what is known as “relative stability keys”. These keys do change when a new member joins or one leaves.

At 11pm, 29th March 2019 the UK’s EEZ is returned to our Westminster Parliament, who must take full responsibility under the guidelines of International Law – UNCLOS3. At that moment all EU quota ceases to exist in the UK’s EEZ.

It is then down to the UK Government with the support from a majority of the Westminster parliamentarians how much of the British peoples resource they intend to give away. There is no negotiation as such.

The EU has no legal authority to demand anything, because in just over a year’s time, the UK will become an independent coastal state under third country status. Unfortunately, it seems that our government is willing to concede to demands which the EU has no right to make.

There is hope that the deal may yet be torpedoed. The Committee for Exiting the European Union could not come to an agreement on a report not about the transitional deal per se but extending it. Jacon Rees-Mogg, in his characteristically eloquent manner,  called the majority report (which he and six colleagues refused to sign) a  “prospectus for the vassal state”.  He also called the its authors the “High priests of Remain”. Mr Rees-Mogg also fired a shot across the bows of Theresa May in an article for the Daily Telegraph. “The United Kingdom will not accept being a subservient state” he said. “In the case of tariffs, once we have left the EU, it is non-negotiable that our trade minister should be able to respond to any threat of increased tariffs from other nations as suits our national interest, not the EU’s,” He went on to add “In the words of one country’s frustrated trade negotiator, Britain has to decide if it is a serious country or a joke nation. It would be humiliating for others to have cause to think thus of us.”

Trade issues are not the only cause for concern. Since the Brexit vote, our government has signed a number of agreements with the EU on military cooperation, without consulting Parliament. The details can be found on the Veteran for Britain website, which we would thoroughly recommend to anyone wishing to follow this subject in greater detail. This article in particular warns of the potential dangers that will result from this and it seems that  ministers have indicated they intend to make the UK’s role in the agreements permanent via the exit treaty. The Government’s published negotiation aims include a proposal to stay in the European Defence Fund and defence industrial programme. This essentially means that we, as a free country, will be ceding our defence to an organisation we voted to leave.

On another key issue, the European Arrest Warrant, one concerned correspondent wrote to his MP about its dangers, which are well- reported on this website, only to be told that we were intending to stay a signatory of  the EAW and that was that.

To end where we began: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. The battle is not lost yet, but our government, whether through incompetence, deceit, spinelessness or all three, is not delivering the Brexit for which we voted. As a democracy, we are given the chance to tell our politicians what we think of them. We in CIB will ensure that they will get the message well before the next General election – indeed, well before any deal is ready for signing. Recent developments are discouraging, but for the good of the country we love, the fight must and will go on. Sadly it appears that our real enemies are not in Brussels (let alone Moscow) but in Westminster and Whitehall.

The Fallacy of Easy Mutual Recognition of Standards

Mrs May and Mr Davis are opening a Pandora’s Box of complexity, confusion and chaos by advocating the Mutual Recognition of Standards to achieve ‘frictionless’ trade post Brexit.  They appear not even to know the basics, being unwilling or unable to clarify what they mean by ‘standards’, and consequently fail to acknowledge the many subtleties and ‘show-stopping’ problems involved.

Mrs May, in her Our Future Partnership speech at the Mansion House on 2nd March 2018, went no further than to express banal generalities about ‘standards’:

“The UK will need to make a strong commitment that its regulatory standards will remain as high as the EU’s. That commitment, in practice, will mean that UK and EU regulatory standards will remain substantially similar in the future.

Many of these regulatory standards are themselves underpinned by international standards set by non-EU bodies of which we will remain a member – such as the UN Economic Commission for Europe, which sets vehicle safety standards.”

Mr Davis, in his Foundations of the Future Economic Partnership Speech in Vienna 20th February 2018, was similarly vague about mutual recognition and standards:

“Such mutual recognition will naturally require close, even-handed cooperation between these authorities and a common set of principles to guide them.

And the certainty that Britain’s plan — its blueprint for life outside of the European Union — is a race to the top in global standards.

And not a regression from the high standards we have now.”

When they talk about standards, what do they mean? Parameters (for safety, performance, environmental impact etc.) and levels of performance against them? Highly prescriptive laws and regulations covering whatever bureaucrats can think of? Standards published by the International Standards Organisation (ISO) or the European Centre for Standardisation (CEN) or the British Standards Institute (BSI)? Organisations that have statutory duties (under UK and/or EU law) to assess conformity or enforce compliance? All of these? –  or something completely different?

Whilst clarity and precision are prerequisites for any published standard or specification, Mrs May appears to believe she has already been clear in setting out what she wants relating to mutual recognition of standards.  In her statement to the Commons 5th March 2018 Mrs May concluded:

“My message to our friends in Europe is clear.  You asked us to set out what we want in more detail. We have done that.”

Unfortunately for Mrs May and Mr Davis, they are not being at all clear what they want and show no indication of even trying to understand the subject of mutual recognition of standards, which they are so convinced they can get the EU to adopt. Furthermore, the arrangements they appear to be seeking conflicts with how the EU uses ‘standards’ and shows their ignorance of how the EU and Single Market functions.  Mutual recognition, where it exists at all, is being superseded by harmonised standards, processes, procedures, regulation and market surveillance, within a centralised legal and bureaucratic framework. Mutual recognition is the laborious, slow exception, not the fast rule.

The European Union (EU) is seeking to move towards the legally mandated use, without deviation, of harmonised requirements and published European Specifications and Standards, for instance  through its New Approach Directives (which cover many products).  These Directives (which are EU law) contain ‘essential requirements’ covering safety, reliability and availability, health, environmental protection, technical compatibility and accessibility. In turn, these may mandate requirements contained in a dated version of a ‘European specification’ which can be a common technical specification, a European technical approval or a national standard transposing a European standard.  A common technical specification is one which has been laid down in accordance with a procedure recognised by the Member States which has been published in the Official Journal of the European Union.

A Directive will normally only refer to a part (i.e., specific clauses) of a wider ‘European specification’.  European Standards can contain national deviations or special national conditions, but these are then disallowed in the Directive as part of the goal of achieving harmonised requirements.  Derogations (or variations) against requirements in Directives are discouraged requiring the granting of unique or special permission by the relevant authority which increasingly is an arm of the European Commission.  Generally national standards (or rules) can be used only where permitted by a Directive or in the absence of an applicable European specification.

There are published International, European and British standards for materials, components and finished products, processes, systems, management subjects etc. There are also more fundamental ones such as Basic Safety Publications which are intended for use by technical committees in the preparation of standards. Organisations from the UK participate in drafting committees in the ISO, CEN and BSI et al to produce published standards. This involvement will be unaffected by Brexit.

There is also considerable interchange between international standards (ISO, IEC, EN), often with common text or even numbering and cross referencing of requirements.  Also standards first produced by national bodies (such as BSI) can end up being adopted internationally as ISO or European Standards, with some re-drafting.   Generally, International Standards (from ISO, IEC, CEN, CENELEC etc.) are well refined whilst specified requirements in Directives can contain grammatical errors and be mixed with information, thus making them more difficult to follow.

Harmonising standards to produce a single internationally accepted standard and requirements at European or global level makes considerable sense for quality, safety, technical or functional compatibility, production and testing etc. Often, for historical and economic reasons, this is far from being immediately practicable. Perhaps the simplest illustration is paper sizes where the ISO series (which originated in Germany) is not followed in North America leading to endless document reformatting.

Rocking the ‘Standards Boat’, as Mrs May and Mr Davis propose, is a minefield and not for the unwary or ignorant. The above explanation is merely the tip of the iceberg since standards, to be of any use at all, need to be supplemented and implemented within an appropriate legal, regulatory and surveillance framework, which, like it or not, the EU has developed in considerable detail.   They are not going to change.  Consequently to get their Brexit strategy right and ‘deliver a wide range of benefits to enhance competitiveness and performance’ (available from the BSI or ISO), Mrs May and Mr Davis should practise what they preach and race to the top, under independent conformity assessment, by rapidly adopting ISO 44001:2017 (formerly BS 11000) Collaborative Business Relationships