The Retailer Winter Edition 2022





Adrian Simpson Retail Products Policy Adviser British Retail Consortium

W hat does divergence mean and what sup port do businesses need to trade within the UK and Europe? On a question-and-answer page of the European Union’s (EU) website is the mournful statement: “The United Kingdom is set to leave the European Union on 31 January 2020. It will no longer be a Member State of the European Union. This is a decision that the EU regrets but respects”. It’s unusual to see the emotion on a political union’s web presence but behind the sorrowful statement lies a newworld for British Businesses. Part of the Brexit deal was that the UK would get to take control of our laws and destiny. What does this mean in reality? An argument touted before Brexit was that ‘too many rules and regulations were coming from the EU’. How much is ‘too much’ will of course vary from person to person, but even official numbers of EU derived law is uncertain. The House of Commons Library says that 13% of UK Law is derived from EU law, whilst Business for Britain puts the figure as high as over 60%. As with many statistical arguments, it all comes down to how you calculate the figures. Within the British Retail Consortium, the Buying Community aims to help retailers sell safe and compliant goods. This community of over 600 retail professionals helps shape and influence product safety policy. Since April 2021when I began management of this community a theme that has come up repeatedly is divergence. Divergence, according to “The UK In a Changing Europe” (a source for independent research on UK-EU relations) is “the UK’s ability to change the rules governing different economic sectors once outside of the EU”. Put simply it is where UK and EU law differs. Let’s look at how divergence is working within product safety. Product safety has always featured highlywithin the European Commission. Laws that protect us such as the Toy Safety Regulations and the General Product Safety Regulations are enacted across the European Union. This means that products for sale within France can also be sold in say, Slovakia and elsewhere across the European Union. In November 2020 the EC released a ‘NewConsumerAgenda’ with product safety featuring in 3 of the 5 agenda items. Within the UK the Office for Product Safety and Standards was formed to provide leadership and management of product safety incidents. Local enforcement of product safety is still carried out by Trading Standards Professionals.

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