One of the great claims made by those supporting Brexit was that it would enable the UK to get rid of all those regulations made by those dreaded unelected Eurocrats in Brussels, and free UK businesses from what is always described as ‘red tape’. There are at least two obvious problems with this. The first is that the regulations aren’t made by those unelected Eurocrats in isolation; they’re made with the agreement and input of the representatives of the elected governments of the 28 member states. Not every state always gets exactly what it wants, but it’s democracy, not the lack of it, which ends up following the wishes of the majority – or perhaps more accurately, getting to a conclusion which a majority can support.
Leaving that aside, the second obvious problem is their apparent inability to point to many concrete examples of regulations which can in future be disregarded. There were two stories last week which brought this to mind.
The first was a story about the possibility of giving priority to electric vehicles in a number of English cities. This is, it seems, part of a response to a Supreme Court ruling, ordering the UK Government to comply with European limits on air pollution. Would this, I wonder, be one of those horribly European bits of red tape which we should be tearing up post-Brexit in order to free up UK enterprises to make more money by paying less attention to environmental issues? I mean, outside of Brussels, who really cares about having clean air to breathe?
The second was rather more local; it was about the decision to give protected status to Carmarthen Ham. This ‘protected status’ is another of those horrid European regulations, and it’s clearly a barrier to other businesses who want to muscle in to this market and exercise their right to sell their product as they wish. So is this one of the pieces of red tape doomed to be abolished, I wonder?
Perhaps these might look like silly examples, but that would also apply to almost any other example that I picked; and the second isn’t so far away from the one concrete example that the Prime Minister gave us in her speech to her party’s conference, when she talked about “how we label our food”. This ‘plucky island nation’ (I should probably attribute the copyright of that phrase to someone or other) standing against the foreign foe for the right to put whatever labels we like on our food sounds like the sort of thing that might go down well in a Tory conference – but how sensible is it?
For any food producer wanting to sell its produce only in the UK, it might have some advantages, particularly if it means that they can get away with more (although I’m not sure why so many of those who will be consuming the products appear to think that’s such a good idea). But any food producers wishing to sell into the single market (paying whatever tariffs are necessary for the privilege) will still have to comply with the rules of the EU. But in this case, that would be in addition to complying with UK rules. This is just one example of many where having separate UK rules will not necessarily mean less regulation and red tape – they could actually mean more.And that’s the point about most of the EU regulations that people are raging against – they exist because having one set of rules to follow is better than having 28 with which exporting businesses need to comply. It's actually a way of reducing the overall regulatory burden on companies trading within the market bloc. This is far from being the first or the only example of what sounds like a good sound bite actually coming back to place a real bite on the posterior. But then, as long as we have control of our borders…