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Martin McGurk 

Brexit & the UK's role in developing future standards

Martin McGurk

Brexit & the UK's role in in developing future standards
The British Standards Institute, BSI, recently held a live webinar focusing on the UK's future role in developing European Standards where they outlined:
  1. Following the result of the UK referendum there will be a transition period. While negotiations are on-going, it is business as usual for BSI, including all aspects of standards making, policy and strategy work.
  2. BSI’s ambition is that the UK should continue to participate in the European Standardization System, with BSI as a full member of CEN and CENELEC.
  3. BSI is confident that a UK exit from the EU will not affect BSI’s membership of ISO, IEC and ETSI.

 This, they feel, would bring the maximum benefit to the UK economy and society that comes from reciprocity of market access across 33 countries, which frees UK industry from unnecessary trading burdens.


Who are BSI?

  • BSI is appointed by UK government to participate in international standards making. By getting the world to adopt UK ideas and drive towards single global standards the aim is to simplify and boost trade, for our benefit, globally.

What are standards and why are they important?

  • Standards can offer a set of powerful business and marketing tools for organisations of all sizes. They can be used to fine-tune performance, manage risks, operating more efficiently and sustainably. They allow organisations to demonstrate the quality of their products and services to customers and they can help to embed best practice into the organisation.
  • Standards are a very efficient ways of sharing between businesses and government what “good looks like”.
  • The “Single Standard Model” is a response from industry to working and trading in the single market. CEN & CENELEC agree to adopt identically across their membership and withdraw relevant redundant standards. The principle is one of reciprocity, to make business as simple as possible to do across borders.
  • The vast majority of standards being developed are European and International in nature, the number of “UK-only” standards is small and falling, but crucially UK experts are chairing over 500 committees, backed by the hard work of more than 11,000 UK committee members. 
  • 1500 standards a year are withdrawn, reducing the burden on business. For example, formerly there were 160,000 British Standards, now reduced to 19,000 Single Standards (across CEN/CENELEC’s 33 member countries).
  • Some standards are used to work with regulation (less than 20% in Europe), these are known as “Harmonised Standards” and are industry’s response to regulation requested by the European Commission under the “New Legislative Framework” set out in the 1980s, they must always seek to be the minimum requirements necessary.

Who do BSI work with?

  • CEN & CENELEC are independent private associations covering 33 countries who work with the EU. Individual Technical Committees are not “Brussels-led”, as they are looked after by the national standards bodies (e.g. BSI) of individual member states for all our benefit. BSI aims to use its influence to ensure that global standards allow for reciprocal market access for industry and that this also supports regulation on behalf of UK businesses.
  • BSI expects no changes to membership of the various global bodies (e.g. ISO, IEC, ETSI), and will continue to actively support committee membership of UK experts.


Possible outcomes of UK departure from EU? (BSI's view)

  • BSI outlined four scenarios prior to the referendum, as detailed here, covering continued tight integration through to “WTO only” access (like New Zealand). BSI will need to discuss the changing of CEN/CENELEC statute to allow continued access for BSI and its members if we have access to either EFTA or the EEA, BSI wants to maintain this as there are strong economic arguments for the single standard model, but might not be able to if the “WTO-only” scenarios comes to pass.
  • Industry will still need to meet UK (import) and EU (export) standards to continue to trade, and would prefer UK businesses to have a say in EU standards going forwards. BSI will seek to avoid a fragmented market structure if at all possible.  It will not be possible to pick and choose which standards (UK/EU/Global) apply in which sector, as this would defeat the single standard model, thus there are no plans to bring back old British Standards.


  • Will UK experts lose influence in the process? Hard to measure and be precise but relationships continues with full commitment. So any loss of influence will be temporary, as UK expertise is regarded as highly valuable and will continue to be so through the good offices of the committee members.
  • Will English language continue to be the working language? Yes at global level English is the standards language, this is highly unlikely to change.
  • Funding of the system changes, what will be the effect?  BSI receives no EU funding, CEN receive less than 30% & CENELEC receive less than 20%. So no major changes expected. AITS supports for committee members will continue as long as UK government feels it appropriate.
  • Will manufacturers need to have multiple product lines if UK & EU standards diverge? Anecdotally, BSI’s members do not want this to happen, and so BSI will work to maintain the single standard model to prevent this.
  • Will harmonised standards change? Harmonised standards are developed through the same standards processes, it’s only the trigger that is different. Industrial members effectively accept proposed EU regulations through CEN/CENELEC and, where appropriate, develop standards in response, present them back to the Commission which will then, in turn, be accepted and published thus providing the “presumption of conformity” that gives the standard its usefulness for businesses.
  • What about CE marking? This is governed by regulation, and thus is a matter for UK government and the EU.
  • Will "National Annexes" continue? Some industry sectors have specific national annexes where there are additional national regulations that apply, e.g. the construction sector, but we still need to adopt standards universally.
  • How will this affect the future direction for BSI, more of a global outlook? BSI are in listening mode and will move in the direction that members want over time, but no shift in emphasis is envisaged in the short to medium term, as BSI already work globally.
  • How would the divergence of standards be managed, should it happen? The basic principle of full stakeholder engagement, public consultation etc will be maintained. 1500 standards a year are withdrawn! and BSI aims for this approach to continue.

What do all the acronyms mean?

  • BSI - British Standards Institute, BSI is the business standards company that helps organisations all over the world make excellence a habit.
  • CEN - Comité Européen de Normalisation (European Committee for Standardisation). CEN develops European standards and promotes voluntary technical harmonization in Europe in conjunction with worldwide bodies and its partners in Europe.
  • CENELEC - European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization CENELEC is the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization and is responsible for standardization in the electrotechnical engineering field. CENELEC prepares voluntary standards, which help facilitate trade between countries, create new markets, cut compliance costs and support the development of a Single European Market
  • ISO - International Organization for Standardization, the worldwide federation of national standards bodies from 140 countries. It promotes the development of standardization to aid the international exchange of goods and services. ISO's work results in international agreements, which are published as international standards.
  • IEC - International Electrotechnical Commission, the global organisation that prepares and publishes international standards for all electrical, electronic and related technologies.
  • ETSI - European Telecommunications Standards Institute, produces globally-applicable standards for Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), including fixed, mobile, radio, converged, broadcast and Internet technologies.
  • AITS – Assistance for International Travel Scheme, for UK technical committee members. If you want to get involved in developing standards, see here.
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