Brexit: Plans for costly new tests on goods before sale are suspended in another U-turn

Plans to force UK companies to subject their products to costly new tests before they can go on sale have been scrapped, in another Brexit U-turn.

The new ‘UKCA’ quality label was due to replace the EU’s ‘CE’ badge from January 1 – as a symbol of Britain having left the bloc – but ministers now accept it would be a ‘burden for companies”.

Companies had protested that testing would represent unnecessary and costly bureaucracy when the goods have already been approved by the EU as meeting the required standard.

The introduction of the UKCA system has now been delayed for two years, until 2025, but the move will raise doubts that the change will ever be made, given the two-year recession the UK is set to suffer.

The government has repeatedly delayed the implementation of border controls on goods imported from the EU due to the feared £1billion extra cost to cross-Channel trade, despite fears that a lack of controls can allow the spread of disease.

Announcing the two-year postponement of the introduction of the UKCA brand, current Business Secretary Grant Shapps said: “This decision will give businesses the breathing space and flexibility they need at this crucial time.”

In February, The Independent revealed a Cabinet split over the brand’s introduction, when No 10 slapped then Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg’s call for it to be dropped.

Earlier this year, Britain’s Chambers of Commerce urged the government to recognize that the UKCA mark – an important symbol for many Brexit supporters – was neither necessary nor practical.

“We need a clear message between governments that they are prepared to listen well and act pragmatically in the interests of British businesses,” said William Bain, head of trade policy at the BCC.

At the time, Mr Rees-Mogg – then Minister for Brexit Opportunities – was under pressure to find ‘bureaucracy’ that could be scrapped and pushed to rethink. But a Downing Street spokesperson insisted that “products bearing the CE mark will require a UKCA mark from January 1 next year”.

Now Mr Shapps, announcing the U-turn, insisted it was ‘giving thousands of businesses the freedom to focus on growth’.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy highlighted the difficult economic conditions created by post-pandemic shifts in demand and supply, and by Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine and the associated increase energy prices.

“The government does not want to impose on companies the obligation to respect the initial conditions [31 December 2022] deadline,” the ministry said.

Sarah Olney, Liberal Democrat Treasury spokeswoman, called the announcement “yet another embarrassing U-turn”, saying: “This government is preaching cutting red tape as it burdens business after the other. They have absolutely no plan to boost British business.

Naomi Smith, chief executive of the internationalist campaign group Best for Britain, said the reality of the extra costs would still be “true two years from now”.

“By introducing more Brexit red tape at all times, this government is clipping the wings of UK traders and in the meantime creating more uncertainty in an already perilous economic climate,” she said.

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