The UK Government has launched a broad-ranging review of the UK product safety framework post-Brexit, specifically with a view (maybe even a mission?) to “modernising” the laws. This is significant and here’s our take on why.

The UK Government has announced that it is launching a broad-ranging review of the UK product safety framework, specifically with a view to “modernising” the laws to ensure they are fit for the technologies and markets of the future. Over 20 sets of regulations are in scope of the review.

Its significance

Since the end of the Brexit transition period, we’ve been looking for signs from the UK Government as to whether they will seek to diverge from the EU or fall in line. There were some early signs of divergence (such as choosing not to adopt the new Medical Devices Regulation, or the Goods Package), followed by some signs of remaining close (such as the UK bringing its ecodesign and energy labelling legislation into line with the new EU legislation). We also anticipated inadvertent divergence might occur because the horizon for new and updated EU (as opposed to UK) product safety legislation is nothing short of crowded for the next few years and the UK might simply choose not to adopt much of it. But, the tone of the UK Government’s announcement is the clearest sign yet that the UK is very much looking to make its own mark in this area, rather than simply moving along in line with developments in the EU and in other international contexts. The strength of the emphasis on this in the announcement is noteworthy – and it raises the distinct possibility that the UK will not necessarily stay closely aligned with EU product rules over time.

The announcement also confirms a focus on areas such as new technologies and new marketing structures (e.g. online sales), which have been firmly within the sights of the policy-makers within the UK Office for Product Safety and Standards. The EU already has ambitious plans in both these areas, so its unsurprising that the UK has also flagged these as top priorities.

Businesses should anticipate that the post-Brexit UK could be quick off the mark in introducing reforms to existing laws (bearing in mind it will be quicker to get legislation through the UK legislature than the EU legislature), so it’s important to pay attention to what is going to be happening here. Especially in light of the EU’s ambitious program of reforms of the EU product safety framework (such as the revision to the EU’s General Product Safety Directive, big push on circularity and sustainability and new upcoming legislation on AI, among many other initiatives in the pipeline). There’s also the Northern Ireland factor with the Northern Ireland Protocol currently meaning that part of the UK must continue to align with the EU on product safety laws.

Bearing this all in mind, it remains to be seen quite how far the UK will want to step away from the EU but there is at least a possibility that before we know it, we could find ourselves with two quite different regulatory regimes.

Next steps

The Government has launched a call for evidence closing on 3 June 2021, which focuses on the following topics:

  • product design, manufacture and placing on the market
  • new models of supply
  • new products and product lifecycles
  • enforcement considerations
  • a diverse and inclusive product safety framework

The call for evidence seeks views from a broad range of stakeholders including manufacturers, trade associations, conformity assessment bodies, consumers and consumer organisations.

Given what is at stake, it’s important that businesses have their say on how this should be approached. You can take part in the call for evidence by completing the questionnaire here until 3 June. It’s important to remember that feedback will be made public. Please reach out to the Cooley products team if you need help or advice in relation to providing feedback.