The White Paper is unlikely to be a reliable guide as to how the negotiations will progress, but does offers the most detailed outline to date of the government’s vision of the future relationship between the EU and the UK. Homogeneity of regulatory standards will comfort product manufacturers who want to avoid the burdens of divergent regulatory regimes. However, with a degree of regulatory divergence inevitable, we explore below the proposals of particular relevance.
- Free Trade Area
The White Paper proposes the establishment of a free trade area for goods, enabling products to undergo one set of approvals in either the UK or EU before being sold in both. The proposal includes the introduction of a Facilitated Customs Arrangement which would remove the need for customs checks, and a common rulebook for goods. A common rulebook would, according to the White Paper, ensure that goods meet the necessary regulatory standards. It would also mean that product manufacturers would not have to run separate production lines for the UK and EU markets, avoiding a potential increase in production costs.
- Co-operation Arrangements
The exchange of information between the UK and EU will be key to ensuring that defective products are not released into either market. The White Paper proposes that EU and UK regulators enter into co-operation agreements so that they can take a coordinated approach to compliance and enforcement. This will include allowing UK regulators access to the EU’s communications systems such as the Rapid Alert System for Serious Risk (RAPEX), ensuring that dangerous products are withdrawn from the market as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- Participation in EU Agencies
According to the White Paper, the UK should continue to participate in certain EU agencies, particularly in highly regulated sectors, accepting the regulations of agencies such as the European Medicines Agency. If this proposal is accepted, the regulatory arrangements in these areas will broadly replicate the current arrangements.
As we stated above, the White Paper is, of course, not a binding document and has already been heavily criticised. Some of the proposals, such as co-operation agreements between regulators, have mutual benefits and few disadvantages. However, others, such as the establishment of a free trade area, go to the heart of the EU’s four freedoms and will be more difficult to agree. With this in mind, the White Paper should be seen as a compass, rather than a road map, for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
The full text can be found here.