Dear West Country Voices,
I am 70 years of age and started my career in the scientific civil service Chemical laboratories (Ministry of Defence) at Porton Down, Wiltshire.
After four years I left, and worked in the food industry, both in production and research and development, finally becoming quality assurance manager in a major baby food company, which had factories throughout the globe.
Finally, I started a small company in 1989 in the hi-fi and electronics industry, once again trading internationally.
Last year, I retired and have had time to reflect on the UK’s alarming withdrawal from the EU community.
Whilst I was working in the baby food industry, we made the transition between British Standards and European Standards. This involved a lot of work with our European friends to ensure that our products met very stringent chemical and microbiological standards. Events that occurred during that time, including Chernobyl and the BSE crisis, emphasised the need for European co-operation on these safety standards to ensure all product was safe. During that time, it was also very important to co-operate fully with UK Environmental Health and Trading Standards.
Whilst we are now starting to learn the true economic cost of leaving the EU, I do not think anyone appears to have given much consideration to safety aspects in this regard.
In short – what standards are we now working to? Have we gone back to the old British Standards? Have they been resurrected? I doubt it, because they were abandoned ages ago. We hear of the Conservatives’ threat to throw out a shed-load of European regulations in the near future, which will sound alarm bells amongst those industries trying to make product that is acceptable for export throughout the world and importing into the UK.
Secondly, it is important to understand that when were part of Europe, we had a voice in how those standards were conceived; but if we now choose to abandon those standards, which countries will accept our product for export? And, just as important, as we are no longer in the EU, will we become a dumping ground for ‘0ut-of-spec’ products that have been rejected within the EU? The complex chemical pesticide testing comes to mind: are we testing for pesticide residues in our imported fruit and veg products? I doubt it; it is very expensive and time-consuming. Whilst in the EU we had some confidence that those products met specifications.
I remember the absolute relief following the European Community Custom Codes act being passed in 1992 and the unrestricted movement of goods finally starting in 1993. This meant that I could export goods throughout the EU without customs and compliance forms and without customs and VAT tariffs. Trading within the EU became as easy as trading within the UK and, best of all, our goods were accepted throughout the globe because they conformed to EU standards.
Also, goods imported into the UK had to conform to EU standards – for example, electronic components made in China had to have a little green sticker on them, showing compliance (e.g., lead free solder) with regulations. Would they do this now specifically to show compliance with British standards? I doubt it because it would not be worth their trouble for such a small market.
We have failed miserably to make meaningful trade deals outside the EU, which is hardly surprising as we are such a small market. And I firmly believe that unless we make urgent plans to re-join the EU within the next two-year period, whatever we do, our country will only stagnate, and living and safety standards will continue to fall
All those standards and regulations, which took experts years to conceive, were there for a purpose: to protect us. We abandon them at our peril.
Name and address supplied