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Brexit and the UK's role in future standards

Written by Martin McGurk on 26 July 2016

Hot after the Brexit vote, the British Standards Institute led a webinar on the implications for standards and EU regulations.

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The British Standards Institute (BSI), recently held a live webinar focusing on the UK's future role in developing European Standards, in which they outlined the following:


  1. following Brexit there will be a transition period. While negotiations are ongoing, 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 Standardisation System, with BSI as a full member of CEN (European Committee for Standardisation) and CENELEC (European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation).

  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 reciprocal market access across 33 countries, thus freeing 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.


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 and manage risks, while operating more efficiently and sustainably. They allow organisations to demonstrate the quality of their products and services to customers and 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 and CENELEC agree to adopt identically across their membership and withdraw redundant standards. The principle is one of reciprocity, to make business as simple as possible 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 UK experts are chairing more than 500 committees, backed by the hard work of more than 11,000 UK committee members.

  • 1,500 standards a year are withdrawn, reducing the burden on business. For example, there used to be 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 minimum requirements.


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 uses 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 by UK experts.


Possible outcomes of UK departure from EU - the BSI's view


  • BSI outlined four scenarios before the referendum, covering continued tight integration through to WTO only access (e.g. New Zealand). BSI will need to discuss changing 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 arrangement as there are strong economic arguments for the single standard model. But this might not be possible if WTO-only scenarios come to pass.

  • industry will still need to meet UK (import) and EU (export) standards to continue to trade, and would prefer UK businesses to continue to have a say in EU standards. 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, so there are no plans to bring back old British Standards.




  • Will UK experts lose influence in the process? This is hard to measure and be precise about but relationships continue with full commitment. So any loss of influence will be temporary, as UK expertise is seen as highly valuable and will continue to be so through the good offices of the committee members.

  • Will English continue to be the working language? Yes. At global level, English is the standards language, and this is highly unlikely to change.

  • If funding of the system changes, what will be the effect?  BSI receives no EU funding; CEN receives less than 30% and CENELEC less than 20%. So no major changes are expected. AiTS support for committee members will continue as long as UK government feels it appropriate.

  • Will manufacturers need to have multiple product lines if UK and EU standards diverge? Anecdotal evidence is that BSI’s members do not want this to happen, so BSI will work to maintain the single standard model.

  • 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. They then present them back to the Commission which will, in turn, accept and publish them, so providing the 'presumption of conformity' that makes the standard useful for business.

  • What about CE marking? This is governed by regulation, and 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, as in the construction sector, but we still need to adopt universal standards.

  • how will this affect the future direction for BSI - a more global outlook? BSI are in listening mode and will move in the direction that members want, 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. 1,500 standards a year are withdrawn! And BSI wants 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.