Cabinet split over plans to force UK firms to put goods through costly post-Brexit tests

Jacob Rees-Mogg raises business hopes by saying there is ‘no point’ to tests – but is slapped down by No 10

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 22 February 2022 18:01
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Plans to force UK firms to put their goods through costly post-Brexit tests before they can go on sale have been plunged into confusion by a cabinet split.

Businesses pushing for a U-turn – arguing the tests are needless red tape, where goods have been approved by the EU – had their hopes raised when Jacob Rees-Mogg said there was “no point” to them.

But the “Brexit opportunities minister” has been slapped down by No 10, which says the “UKCA mark” will be introduced on 1 January next year, as planned.

It means goods will have to be tested even if they already have approval to be stamped with the EU “CE” quality mark – despite criticism it will be a waste of time and money.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow trade secretary, attacked the “confusion”, saying: “It is astonishing that the new Brexit opportunities minister seems to have no idea what government policy has been for the past three years.

“Businesses have been crying out for support to help as trading changes come into effect but ministers have ignored their pleas.”

And Hilary Benn, chair of the UK Trade and Business Commission, said the tests will be a further blow to companies already hit by post-Brexit import and export checks.

“This very confusing episode for the government will give little confidence to businesses who must plan for the standards their products are expected to meet,” he said.

Mr Rees-Mogg is under pressure to find “red tape” that can be removed – after Boris Johnson claimed a ‘Brexit Freedoms Bill’ will strip out £1bn of costs.

He sparked surprise when he said, last weekend, that “there is no point in us repeating things that other organisations and countries do to a perfectly competent standard”.

“If a widget is a good and effective widget, why do we need to put the cost on companies of testing it twice?” he asked, in an interview with The Times.

“Doubling up on regulation is a non-tariff barrier. And it will be very bad for the UK because people will simply say, well, we’re not going to bother with that market.”

But a Downing Street spokesperson told The Independent there is no intention to change policy, saying: “Products with the CE mark will require a UKCA mark from 1 January next year.”

Mr Rees-Mogg’s comments sparked surprise because, only last week, business department officials told industry groups there would be no U-turn.

William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said business groups did not believe the UKCA scheme was necessary or practical.

“We need a clear cross-government message that it is willing to listen well and act pragmatically in the interests of UK businesses,” he told The Financial Times.

Despite No 10 insisting it will not budge, the deadlines for meeting the new standards’ regime has been postponed twice, after business pressure.

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