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Update: what does the government’s Brexit plan really mean for consumers?

Brexit and Westminster

Theresa May’s government published their Brexit White Paper last week – but what does it really mean? Our resident Brexit expert Jane Wallace sets our latest findings…

Update: 12/10/2018

Today, we’ve released our no-deal Brexit report. Our in-depth research has revealed that the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit could mean ‘immediate’ and ‘severe’ consequences for millions of consumers.

We’ve assessed the government’s plans against the tests we set out in our Consumer Charter for Brexit in March 2018: Prices, Rights, Standards and Choice.

Close inspection reveals that the government’s technical papers on leaving the EU suggest a reduction in rights and choice, as well as price hikes that would have a ‘direct and hard’ impact on consumers.

Read our latest news

Download the full report

Update: 13/09/2018

Britons face the return of EU roaming charges under a ‘no-deal Brexit’. Peter Vicary-Smith, Chief Executive of Which?, said:

“Two thirds of people think it is important that free roaming exists when travelling in the EU, so the news that we could face the return of sky-high charges to use our phones abroad will come as a real blow. If the Government is to deliver a Brexit that works for consumers, it needs to not only maintain free-roaming across the EU, but also look to extend the benefit of free-roaming for people visiting countries worldwide.”

Devil’s in the detail

It’s hard to find a front page that hasn’t spoken about Brexit following the Cabinet meeting at Chequers and the publication of the Government’s Brexit White Paper – it’s been everywhere.

As always we’ve been cutting through the rhetoric, reviewing how the Government’s negotiating position for the future UK-EU relationship measures up against our consumer charter.

Good news first: the paper is a certainly a welcome step for consumers including positive proposals Which? has been calling for to ensure a UK-EU deal delivers for consumers – from on-going access to goods, securing energy and food supplies and how people travel.

That said, the paper is not perfect and there are things missing, including a clear commitment that there will be no undermining of food standards – and there’s no commitment made to maintain mobile roaming when visiting the EU.

On the middle ground, there’s a lot contained in the paper where the devil will be in the detail.

We need the Government to ensure the details reflect the ambition such as ensuring an aviation agreement includes compensation so consumers can be confident in their rights.

It is also essential that the where the UK aligns with EU rules, consumer protection is paramount with meaningful input into future legal requirements covering consumer goods.

As well as at the negotiating table the Government must also take the initiative at home. Throughout the paper areas are outlined where the UK won’t align with the EU. In these spaces the Government must step up for consumers and pursue policies which at the very least maintain, if not improve, things for consumers.

There are also steps the Government can be taking now – investing in national systems to support the ambition in enforcement of consumer rights, product safety and food standards.

What we’re calling for

We’re writing to the Prime Minister to deliver our assessment of the white paper. As well as defending and developing the pro-consumer parts of the proposal we’ve outlined five key actions to take. We want the Government to:

1.Commit to maintaining current consumer protections e.g in food safety and quality

2. Ensure the Air Transport deal includes consumer rights such as flight delay compensation

3. Urgently reform the UK product safety and consumer protection system to stop dangerous products reaching our shelves

4. Set out a timeline for Brexit and keep consumers updated on what it actually means for them

5. Provide assurances that where we align with EU, the consumer voice will be represented

Fighting your corner

Of course, this paper is only a starting point and there will no doubt be changes as we move through the negotiations, but it’s reassuring consumer issues are being picked up. We now need to ensure they’re developed as the details are fleshed out and defended around the negotiating table.

As we enter this new phase where consumer issues are up for grabs in Brussels and at home, we’ll be holding the Government’s feet to the fire to ensure the issues consumers care about aren’t traded off or forgotten about and we’ll keep you updated as we go.

Have you been following the Brexit white paper? Would you welcome the Government talking more about what this means for you as a consumer? What would be the best way for the Government to reach consumers to provide updates?


It is a plausible theory that the EU has used Eire in order to take control of Brexit and to make the UK’s exit from the EU more difficult than it needed to be. It has been suggested that it has done this under its guise of supporting the smaller states where they are under pressure from bigger states [yes . . . tell that to the Greeks!].

Malcom’s proposal is appealing but I can’t believe the DUP would be happy with the unification of Ireland and, as we have seen, they will not easily be bought off.

There is never a solution to the Irish question because every time you come up with an answer they change the question.

Phil says:
24 October 2018

Not only plausible but it is exactly what the EU is doing. I am surprised that no one has observed that the border that existed before was based on controlling terrorism, not the flow of goods, and so the suggestion that a border would put the Good Friday agreement at risk is erroneous as its sole purpose would be to control goods not terrorists. There is a simple solution available – tell the EU that the UK is not going to build a border but if they want to build one they can – just watch the Republic jump to attention at the thought of the EU wrecking access to its most important market! We need to get on the front foot in the negotiation if we want to win.

Phil says:
24 October 2018

I am watching, with excited anticipation, the emerging situation arising from the EU telling Italy that it must revise its budget – this is of course entirely consistent with the EU being just about trade – not politics, economics, fiscal or judicial matters!

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Phil says:
24 October 2018

You miss my point – we were told in 1973 and 1975 that we were joining or staying in a common market – a trading body – not a political, fiscal, economic, judicial, super power. Where in history is there an example of a trading party interfering in the internal affairs, such as setting a budget, of a sovereign state? The EU will break up in exactly the same way that the USSR and Yugoslavia did so we need to get off the ship before it sinks.

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Not my memory of the Yugoslav war – civil war with many atrocities committed by the original members of Yugoslavia.I also don’t equate the USA with having an “empire” in the way the UK did.

However, this does not seem relevant to Brexit. I agree we joined a trade group, and a shame it didn’t stay that way instead of morphing into a political organisation. I hope we resolve the Irish issue and get the leave underway. We can stand on our own feet better than many (most) EU states. A pity we are not supported by some UK business as well as it could – electric cars to be made in Singapore instead of here, but as in another Convo, some put their own interests first.

Phil says:
25 October 2018

The USSR and Yugoslavia were both held together by violent bullies and when those bullies were removed, by whatever means, they broke up as the construct was false and contradictory to the will and desires of the people. The EU is the same as the USSR and Yugoslavia; it is a bully but without the physical violence.

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Phil says:
25 October 2018

You will have to help me out Duncan – who do you have in mind?

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Many states are run by “bullies”, it seems to me. It’s how they get power in the first place, and maintain it.

I believe you have to define what ‘bully’ means in that context.

Phil says:
26 October 2018

Russia, China, Syria, North Korea – who are you actually thinking of Duncan?

Phil says:
26 October 2018

Sounds like China Duncan – is that right?

In wrong place. Moved to duncan’s comment

The EC has “rejected” Italy’s budget. Is it right that they should dictate how a member country deals with its own finances? John McDonnell explained this morning how his party would deal with the UK, increasing school, council and social spending, requiring workers’ shares in companies, privatisation of energy, rail and water at huge cost and debt. If we were to be a full member of the EU would we like that policy blocked because they didn’t like the figures?

Phil says:
25 October 2018

The same could not happen to us unless we joined the Euro and even labour isn’t stupid enough to do that – I hope!!! However, the position with Italy, and before it Greece, explains very neatly the issue with the EU; it has stepped well beyond its original remit.

Malcolm – Perhaps Mr McDonnell’s medicine is what those of us of a certain age want – a huge expansion of public services and social spending with reduced energy and water bills but little damage to the wallet [except for our children and grandchildren].

Incidentally, I presume you meant “nationalisation” not “privatisation” of energy, rail, and water.

Thanks John. Yes, slip of the mind! I meant nationalisation, not privatisation. 🙁 These proposals seem to proceed on the basis that there is a vast pool of talent in the public arena ready to take over the management from those already doing the job.

However, my point was interference in the politic, effectively, of a member state. If we were in the Euro and chose a government with this agenda I would not want the “will of the people” subject to the approval, or otherwise, of Brussels.

As was remarked earlier, a common market for trade purposes was, and would still be, good. Having the choice to adopt other policies would be fine, but having them imposed is not fine.

Phil says:
25 October 2018

It is the same old same old labour chant – keep taking money from the bottomless pit of sovereign debt. Also, if you are old enough to remember British Rail you would not contemplate nationalisation of anything.

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Phil says:
25 October 2018

You mean what is left having already sold most things to; France, Germany, China, Japan, India and Russia? We live on the globe and you either embrace globalisation or stay small and petty.

I’m old enough to remember why the nationalisation of the “big four” to form British Railways was necessary after the end of WW2.

Essentially the extreme demands war made on the railways with no means of keeping them in adequate condition, lack of men and materials, had resulted in a clapped out system. After years of bumbling along an antiquated service was rescued by Beeching. Nostalgia is one thing, but lack of passengers and freight on many lines and the more flexible competition from road traffic made this essential.

The mistake then was, I think, separating the infrastructure from the service as the two are so interdependent. Would a single public body be capable of running both? It should be, but my problem with nationalised industry is the lack of incentive to succeed – an essential service will always be bailed out. And, of course, political interference even more than now. Ticket prices when an election approaches….?

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Quite a number of businesses that were nationalised not only ran more efficiently, but ran at a profit for the country. They just didn’t get any publicity from the newspapers, as the news media is largely owned by those with a distinct pro-capitalism bias.

Nationalisation can work, and work very well indeed. It needs to be well managed, but that’s not an insuperably difficult problem. One very powerful argument in favour of ‘true’ nationalisation is that the profits revert to the country itself, and not to private shareholders – many based offshore.

British Rail was not a ‘true’ nationalised industry. The government simply brought it in-house but didn’t allow it to access the market for loans, funding etc. ‘True’ nationalisation is when the government buys up the majority of the shares. The company continues to be quoted and, more importantly, can access all the normal commercial channels for funding. There’s a media-inspired campaign been running against ‘True’ nationalisation for as long as I can remember, and it disappoints me that so many are conned by the printed vitriol.


Nationalisation rescued the big four from the privations of war time demands during WW2. Interestling, Wikipedia says that the grouping was inspired by the national control of the railways during WW1 – seemingly when the railways worked really well, but stopped short of bringing them into state ownership.

A pal of mine (sadly deceased) whom I knew from Oxford worked for BR as it was then, and lamented the poor way they’d nationalised the Railways. He was particularly bitter as there were other nationalised companies thriving, and he told me the management’s hands were well and truly tied.

Thatcher’s answer was to retain the power to cap privatised industries, but this was typical of her brand of venomous bullying and it’s both unnecessary and utterly wasteful.

The Railway industry is enormous; it has several component parts and defies easy management. But I’m sure people exist who can do the job. And the Railways are as critical to the UK as are Water, the Internet and energy supplies.

My maternal grandfather was a Great Western man. I guess he must have joined them aged 14 around 1910. Apart from time time away in RASC during WW1, he worked on the railways until shortly before his ultimate retirement.

He also did not like the way British Railways was run, so he left his job as a station master to work as a solicitor’s clerk for the last few years of his working life.

My confidence in government-run enterprises is low, partly because of the political undertones that inevitably will influence them, but also by the inept way it appears some public bodies operate. They seem to lack the commercial acumen that keeps operations properly controlled, both financially and to time. Defence procurement overspends are rife, as a project over-runs; the NHS fragmented purchasing systems seem uncoordinated; huge amounts are spent on consultants when they should have in-house expertise; emergency services new communication system is well over schedule; the cannot put a commercial case together for HS2 and costs continue to escalate; universal credit is a mess; IT contracts have been handled abysmally…….and so on. Apart from that…..

The key to privatised essential services like the railways, energy, water, and even prison, probation and so on is for government to put together proper contracts with adequate provision to deal with lack of performance for example, and to impose appropriate sanctions and penalties if contract conditions are not met. If they cannot do that adequately I don’t see how they can purport to take on the total running of the business.

I think your first two points are inextricably linked. It’s often the political interference that leads to the ineptness in management. Although it’s only fair to say that private companies have the same dismal track record in many cases.

The key for successful government-run industries is to look at those that succeeded and copy their operational models. But one thing should always be the case and that’s the simple fact that although the government – as representatives of the tax-paying public – will have a seat on the board they should not be allowed to use political considerations to determine the way the company is managed. If they nationalise with the model I’ve suggested, the trade rules governing publicly quoted companies wouldn’t permit that, anyway.

McDonnell, Corbyn and the Labour Party would destroy the UK financially for many generations to come, accumulating a national debt of such proportions that it would be almost impossible to repay. The only hope is that Labour are never elected under the current leadership, or if they are, that they are unable to borrow the amounts they would like.

I remember the nationalised British Rail. It was truly appalling with the rail unions flexing their muscles disgracefully and attempting to blackmail and bully the government. However, privatisation has also been a disaster with complex and ludicrous fare structures and appalling service. If privatisation is to work it will require enormous improvements and some leadership shown by the Transport Ministry.

Yes; it was, I agree, but the unions then were remarkably bullish and – of course, at that time – they consisted entirely of men. Increasingly, women are becoming train drivers and the climate has changed, industrially speaking.

It’s an interesting topic to explore, though; a quick ook at the world’s railways reveals most are nationalised – at least, in part:
Canada – nationalised, run by VIA Rail Canada, though many of the train lines used are owned by private freight companies
France – nationalised, run by SNCF
Germany – nationalised, Deutsche Bahn, but regional transport authorities are responsible for tendering local train services
Italy – nationalised, run by Trenitalia, but runs on a similar local level as Germany
Japan – mainly privately owned, though the high-speed Shinkansen lines and some smaller lines are still publicly-funded
US – passenger services state run by Amtrak, but it operates in part on privately-owned train lines

When Directly Operated Railways, a state-run body, rescued the East Coast main line after the collapse in 2009 of National Express’s franchise, because NE had been unable to deliver promised revenues to the government, it handed a billion pounds in premiums to the Treasury during its period in charge.

So nationalising the trains can work, and work extremely well. £1bn for the NHS is not to be sneezed at.

Phil says:
26 October 2018

There are two key problems with the idea of nationalising the railways; it will then be owned by the tax payers but 60% of tax payers don’t use trains so will be subsidising those that do and secondly, with the strong union position on the railways, it will be run for the employees not the customers.


Saying “60% of tax payers don’t use trains so will be subsidising those that do” is a bit like saying healthy adults who don’t use schools or hospitals shouldn’t be paying council tax to fund those things.

Also, you seem to be suggesting that a well run business should exploit its employees? [ Aha, I think I just guessed your surname 😉 ]

Phil says:
26 October 2018

Not the same thing at all; education and healthcare will be used by everyone and/or must be available to everyone in a civilised society. I am not suggesting that a business should exploit its employees nor should it exploit its customers as a result of its employees being able to strike at will.

So; who do you think I am – it isn’t a secret!

It is interesting that we have not had a national rail strike, as far as I remember, since privatisation. The power of one side to bring the whole country to a standstill seems to have gone, but I worry that with a single national enterprise that tactic could return.

I am not in favour of nationalisation for a number of reasons, but am in favour of giving all workers in an industry a share in that industry. whether that is by paying a part of their salary in shares, or simply by giving all a profit-related element in their salary. The incentive to make your business work well seems something many people might find attractive.

I favour nationalisation of some industries and areas. Nuclear power, for example, Water, Electricity, Roads, Trains, Education, Policing… The point about striking being able to bring “the whole country to a standstill” is an interesting one. It’s easy to deal with through Parliament and, in fact, has been in the main by legislation. And some never strike: Doctors, Police (who are prohibited, admittedly) and some others, including the armed forces.

The problem comes when enforcing the law, as the Police then become viewed as an arm of the establishment.

In my experience, many railways workers feel a professional calling to provide good public services, as do nurses, firefighters and police.

On the other hand, if you work in a factory that, for example, makes just makes parts for cars, you are less likely to be motivated by a public service ethos and much more likely to be looking at the financial rewards from your work.

Yes – I think that’s true. Those who work for pubic bodies tend to feel a sense of pride in their work.

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Those “septic tanks” need to learn that our UK approach to health and safety is all about reducing risks and protecting people.

For example, some years ago now we banned the private ownership of assault rifles and military handguns, so that folk can safely attend church or school without risking mass shootings.

allowed certain amounts of foreign bodies like maggots, rat-hair and mould“. Could you provide a link to this please?

I used to have it. A tiny amount of rat droppings, insects, and some other unsavoury items are allowed through under FDA regulations. I’ll try to find it again. It actually formed a big part of one of the better Frasier episodes.


“The FDA handbook lays out the maximum level of allowable contaminants for over 100 food items—from allspice to wheat flour—before the item is considered contaminated and should not be consumed. These little critters could be introduced to the food before, during or after the food was harvested, or even during its processing and packaging.

For example, in whole ginger, the FDA allows up to three milligrams or more of mammalian excreta (i.e. mouse droppings) per pound. In peanut butter, the agency allows an average of fewer than 30 insect fragments per 100 grams—about a quarter of your average jar.”

More fascinating breakfast reading here.

And what is the EU legislation that covers this?

Rather than selective reports in the media this seems to be the relevant document and the range of products covered. https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/SanitationTransportation/ucm056174.htm

Is this permitted contamination unique to the USA, or is it recognition of what must be expected in practice? What equivalent legislation for these specific products is applied in the EU – and the UK?

Yes; that’s certainly more specific:

“Action levels:

Average of 30 or more insect fragments per 10 grams

Rodent filth Average of 1 or more rodent hairs per 10 grams

DEFECT SOURCE: Insect fragments – pre/post harvest and processing insect infestation. Rodent hair – post harvest and/or processing contamination with animal hair or excreta

Allspice, Whole
Mould: Average of 5% or more berries by weight are mouldy

DEFECT SOURCE: : Preharvest and/or post harvest infection
SIGNIFICANCE: Potential health hazard – may contain mycotoxin producing fungi

Apple Butter: Average of mould count is 12% or more

Rodent filth
Average of 4 or more rodent hairs per 100 grams of apple butter

Average of 5 or more whole or equivalent insects (not counting mites, aphids, thrips, or scale insects) per 100 grams of apple butter”

It seems the EU deal with chemical constituent contamination, so there’s no easy-to-read guide as with the US.

I believe Ian is right and I could not find any equivalent of the US document when I first became aware of it. Microbiological contamination is more problematic because bacteria and other microorganisms can increase in numbers during storage. Perhaps we should reflect on the fact that thanks to the way that chicken is processed, even uncontaminated carcasses can become coated in faeces during processing.

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Maybe the USA has faced up to the reality and is being honest in what it sets out to regulate. I cannot see an equivalent EU or even an old UK document that covers this ground. Therefore, presumably, we would have no grounds to prevent the import of the products listed by the FDA.

Phil says:
1 November 2018

Malcolmr – You make a very valid point – it is all too easy to over regulate and in the process reduce choice and increase costs to the consumer. I have experienced two situations in recent weeks with products that I have used for many years where legislation has led to them being removed from the market. One has now returned reformulated but the other has been removed “due to EU legislation” – you can only imagine how incensed I am about that – BTW it is just a natural remedy for psoriasis not some dangerous drug.

Phil says:
1 November 2018

I meant to add that while I see a role for government to inform and advise, it is not their job to tell me what I can and can’t do provided I am not breaking the law. What I choose to eat, use or do is my business alone.

I sometimes lick my fingers to remove some dirt or residue. I expect I have ingested more contamination through that practice than in a lifetime of eating food [much of which gets cooked]. I also have a strong immune system. I dare say there is a connexion. Anyway, I expect these contamination levels are just tolerances and are not compulsory; I would expect suppliers to work extremely hard to ensure zero contamination so far as practicable. If traces occur they are unavoidable and not life-threatening as their ingestion would be neither constant nor frequent.

That made me smile, John, and you’re right, of course. The fingers are the main source of contamination from the environment and can be compared to licking the buttons on a lift.

But there’s one interesting point. When Phil says What I choose to eat, use or do is my business alone. it can be argued that in human society we are interdependent as a species so that what we choose to eat, use or do can and usually does affect the others in that society.

As a very rough example, if we become ill as a consequence of the finger lickin’ goodness, and are hospitalised, we not only add to the NHS bill, but stand the very real risk of displacing someone whose needs might be as great but might not be self inflicted to the same degree.

Phil says:
2 November 2018

Very true Ian but if you view everything through the filter of the law of unintended consequences you will never do anything. That said, I always pursue my life journey with consideration for others and I do consider the potential consequences of my actions. My point was; it is NOT the role of government to tell me what to do just to advise and inform me.

I am fairly happy with the current EU legislation regarding food, but am more than a little concerned about what will happen when we leave the EU.

Regulation is there for a purpose and it is well worth studying the reasons if the rules seem pointless.

Phil says:
2 November 2018

I can never understand the view that we would be unable to look after ourselves once we leave the EU. As the first country in the world to introduce; food, beverage and drug laws that dictated safety, consistency and efficacy I think we will manage just fine without big brother watching over us.

I hope you are right, Phil. For many years British products were held in high regard, but that went pear-shaped.

Can you tell us about the two products that were removed from the market? There must have been reasons for doing this.

Phil says:
2 November 2018

The first one, now back on the market, is J Collis Browne’s mixture for stomach upsets – been around since the 1870s and is by far the most effective solution. The other one is an ointment for psoriasis called Potters Psorasolv that I have used for some 30 years and again it is the most effective solution I have found.

I cannot comment on the ointment but the stomach remedy contains morphine, which is probably best used under prescription because of complications including interaction with other medicines: https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/product/4873

I agree about the use of morphine – natural or synthetic. However if JCB’s medicine is used as directed it will deliver less than 10% of the morphine that might be delivered from a prescription medicine.

I’m not sure about its use to combat Diarrhoea as I believe it has a constipating effect and you may get into a vicious cycle .

Many over-the-counter medicines have active components that can harm if taken in excess. They rely on patients following instructions, such as a maximum of 8 Paracetamol a day. The dilemma, perhaps, is in diagnosing the condition for which you are selecting and buying a proprietary product. Given the difficulty in accessing many GPs for what might be seen as non-threatening but abnormal conditions, many resort to self diagnosis and treatment, sometimes encouraged by a little (dangerous) knowledge gleaned from the net.

I must admit that the current furore over the government’s postponement of restrictions on fixed-odds betting terminals does remind me and makes me more concerned that we cannot rely on the government to do what it says or what the people want. I know that it is a contentious issue and that the evidence that the controls will reduce gambling addiction is slender, but I think it is a case of bowing to commercial pressure.- the extremely powerful gambling industry and betting lobby who masquerade under a veil of protecting the people’s pleasures.

A lot of people would lose their jobs if betting shops lost their chief profit generator but in a full-employment economy as we have now that should not be persuasive. The trouble is it will hit the depressed areas hardest because those are the locations where fruitless gambling is prolific and promoted as a form of salvation and escape from poverty.

Can we trust the government to sustain our current food safety regulations in the face of strong commercial opposition, possibly aided and abetted by some MP’s who are in the manufacturers’ pockets?

I wonder how much damage is done by on-line gambling and its advertisement. We banned smoking ads because smoking is damaging. Why not do the same for gambling ads? Or perhaps we should allow people to use their money how they choose?

I cannot make my mind up on this. There is no doubt, however, that gambling can have severe adverse consequences that can lead to destitution, mental breakdown, possibly crime, and dependency on the state for health care and protection. I think there comes a point, in any addiction, where people are no longer in a condition in which they are rationally able to make the choice. I would argue that the state does have a responsibility to save people from ruination if possible – if only because the alternatives are dreadful – and therefore should outlaw advertising that in any way tempts people to gamble away their money.

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Phil, do you have a list of ingredients for the ointment?

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That link was to Phil’s stomach remedy, Duncan. Potter’s Psorasolv is no longer available though searching for the product does produce various pages that list the ingredients, for example: http://www.expresschemist.co.uk/product_2501_potter-s-psorasolv-ointment-30g.html

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Phil says:
7 November 2018

Thank you for your help; Wev, Duncan and Wavechange. Very kind – Phil

We can use our own knowledge and judgement in some areas but in many we do not have that capability. Thus we need regulation to give us protection. However, as we see from other Convos, regulation is only of use if it is enforced and that is where we are lacking, partly due to the lack of funding for Trading Standards, for example.

I do not see why, after Brexit, the UK should suddenly abandon appropriate standards and descend into a 3rd rate society Extreme views seem to be expressed on both sides of the argument, including press releases by Which?, that seem designed to frighten rather than inform.

I’ve a more tempered view of our ability to survive whatever the outcome. I’d prefer to see a more constructive approach to the future of the UK. We are innovative, make good products, offer good services, produce well-qualfied people, and can stand on our own feet.

Phil says:
2 November 2018

I think we already have more than enough nanny state – a sell by date is useful but if the food looks/smells off before the date I won’t eat it but I do often eat food after the date – my common sense and my risk – I like it that way.

I agree, leaving the EU will not herald the scrapping of sensible and appropriate legislation but it should see the reversal of anything that is a disadvantage to the UK.

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How about some good news for a change?

The UK automotive sector is one of the biggest in Europe.

The automotive industry is a vital part of the UK economy accounting for more than £82 billion turnover and £20.2 billion value added.

“With some 186,000 people employed directly in manufacturing and in excess of 856,000 across the wider automotive industry, it accounts for 12.0% of total UK export of goods and invests £3.65 billion each year in automotive R&D.

“More than 30 manufacturers build in excess of 70 models of vehicle in the UK supported by 2,500 component providers and some of the world’s most skilled engineers.” [Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders].

Ten years ago there was one train manufacturing plant in the UK. By the end of next year there will be six. They will be building trains not just for the UK but for the world. In addition to the existing Bombardier and Hitachi sites in Derby and Newton Aycliffe there will be new plants for Siemens [Germany] at Goole, CAF [Spain] at Newport, Alstom [France] at Widnes, and Talgo [Spain] – site to be decided from shortlist of six but North Wales seems to be favoured.

It’s a pity if local businesses have to close but rationalising production and modernising technology are essential in order to stay competitive. We learnt that lesson in the 1950-60’s when the inability to invest after WW2 set our manufacturing industries back by decades. For some Brexit is a threat but for many it is an opportunity.

If another industrial revolution is imminent in the UK I sincerely hope this time around innovative technological advancement has also considered the environment and the air we breathe.

Many don’t appreciate the damage done to the environment by the industrial revolution. I would rather we used our expertise to design cars and other products rather than do the assembly work.

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I’m thinking about the 21st century, Duncan. Thanks to the decline in manufacturing and use of coal for heating our atmosphere has improved, though the increase in population and the number of vehicles on the road mean that city centres are not good for health.

If we are going to maintain the quality of our air and water we need to pay attention to industrial pollution. Germany and some US states have had to take action to control pollution. Making products is not the only way of making money.

Duncan – In my road we still have those wooden poles with steps and the technicians have to go up with a harness to hold them in position with both hands free although sometimes they use a hoist on their vehicle. The poles are as old as the houses [about ninety years] and have elegant finials on top. I haven’t seen any 50-foot poles – perhaps those lines have all been undergrounded by now. I have noticed hollow metal poles with all the line terminations in a base level compartment, but I suppose somebody still has to go up to feed the cables into the cap on top. BT was always noted for its good safety discipline, good protective clothing, and low accident record; it was a benchmark for other industries – but that was when it had a monopoly and could spend whatever it cost.

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Yes, Duncan – don’t get angry; that’s what I’m talking about. The technician climbs a ladder from ground level until they reach the steps and then uses a strap or belt around the back of the pole to keep them safe as they go up to the top where they belay themselves with a harness. I think they even take account of weather conditions these days. The old unsafe practices are outlawed now. It would be interesting to know what the accident statistics were forty years ago compared with today.

I think we had better go down for a delayed Brexit.

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My memory on the situation is a bit hazy. Was there not a time when the UK was in the EU and Eire wasn’t? What were the border arrangements then? Perhaps whatever they were they would be unacceptable today.

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Thanks, Duncan. I was wrong. Eire and the UK both joined the EU on 1 January 1973 and it was 25 years before the peace process and the 1998 Good Friday agreement helped to stabilise the situation such that there was little or no need for severe border controls.

Before the effective cessation of hostilities there was a degree of contraband, smuggling, and illegal transfers of people and munitions back and forth across the border that clearly required control. I would hope that the UK will not now be forced to reintroduce physical border controls; after all nothing significant will be able to enter or leave the island of Ireland other than via a seaport or airport so stopping any illegal activity should not be too difficult.

By the way – The issue that led to the people of Eire having a second referendum on the EU was over ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon. They rejected it first time round and accepted it 16 months later in October 2009.

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It seems that the politicians and negotiators have left us with the following possibilities –

a. the UK can leave the EU on unsatisfactory terms; this does not have majority support and is unlikely to secure Parliamentary approval.
b. the UK can just go; we don’t really know the strength of feeling on this today but it probably does not command majority support and might not gain Parliamentary approval.
c. the UK will not exit the EU; presumably that is the default position.

Those who set up the referendum without a decisive pass mark have a lot to answer for. Running a three horse race around a 48-52% split in public opinion does not show the way forward. We were promised a YES-NO vote. It has turned into YES-NO-MAYBE. Our problem is that we cannot resolve MAYBE.

I can’t see any of the other parties being able to get us out of this pickle either but perhaps a general election is now the only way to make a clean break and start again – so long as it does not end up with another coalition. Which brings us back to a second referendum, but this time with a minimum 60% vote being required in favour of leaving.

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So have fifteen others. At least 48 from Tory MP’s are required to trigger a Conservative Party vote of no confidence in the Leader. If carrried, there would then have to be a new leadership election across the entire party membership, not just the MP’s, so that would include Tory Peers and ordinary members in the constituencies. Theresa May could stand and win. She seems to be gathering support for her determined stand on her Brexit plan. There seems to be a growing realisation that the plan that the arch Brexiteers seem to want is not actually on sale in the EU shop. A total crash-out with a hard border is available, however, but that might not be a popular Christmas present across the country.

I don’t see a change of leader within the Conservative Party as requiring a general election unless it was followed up by a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons. Perhaps that is what the Labour Party now wants but which might be thwarted by the delay arising from a leadership battle on the government benches. Personally I wouldn’t put money on Labour winning a general election right now. People seem far from clear what they are offering on Brexit that is realistically attainable. No Brexit is rising in the betting

We are entering a fractious period and nobody is thinking of consumers, but whatever happens the next two to three years could be very awkward. A general retreat from consumption on the grounds of uncertainty could become quite damaging for the economy and the current bloodbath on the high street might look like the vicar’s Christmas bazaar by comparison if internal trade collapses. Even the mighty Amazon could be stopped in full flow.

An unfamiliar UKCA logo (UK Conformity Assessed) may be seen on goods made in the UK.

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/02/government-reveals-uk-product-safety-mark-in-case-of-a-no-deal-brexit/ – Which?

I would prefer to be able to buy goods that have been independently tested for safety rather than having the present system which is dependent on manufacturers declaring conformity with applicable standards.

It is a requirement for many products that they comply with international safety standards. Many will have been independently tested to carry a safety mark like ENEC and the BSI’s kite mark. Selling goods that do not comply with a standard is an offence. This is why we need a proper Trading Standards organisation to police the market and catch delinquent suppliers.

I would like to see all products tested, certainly those that plug into the mains. Which? has said a lot about product safety recently but I don’t see any sign that Trading Standards will be restored to take action on behalf of individual consumers that have discovered a genuine safety issue.

Reputable manufacturers will test, or have products tested, to check compliance and have audited quality systems to ensure as far as possible consistent products are made. However, a delinquent manufacturer can produce “fake” products or products that do not conform with the tested and approved product sample. This is one reason why independent policing is so necessary and this responsibility was officially given to TS in ther UK, I believe. We must (re)establish a proper policing system to combat this, and prosecute those UK/EU traders who sell such potentially dangerous stuff. It must be made not worthwhile.

Thankfully, Trading Standards does manage to seize some shipments of dangerous or counterfeit goods before they are put on sale, but to take a well know example, there are plenty of dangerous phone chargers in use: https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/guidance/product-safety/mobile-phone-chargers/ Counterfeit ones can be very difficult to distinguish from the real thing.

In an ideal world having manufacturers declare that their products are compliant would be fine but I would like to buy products that had been independently tested.

” I would like to buy products that had been independently tested.“. Look for products that bear an EC or national certification mark. I think Which? should show products thus certified in their reviews (maybe they do?).

I’m happy to buy products from reputable manufacturers. I tread carefully with things like phone chargers

Looking after ourselves is not enough, Malcolm. What about those living in flats or tower blocks. It’s likely that some occupants will own dodgy chargers etc that could be a fire risk.

Which? is why I want Trading Standards or another enforcement body to track down sellers of illicit products and stop them selling defective products by heavy penalties. Unfortunately we can’t withdraw all products that have already been sold, as we found with Indesit dryers.

We can want but the problem is getting worse, not better. Have a look at the Office of Public Safety and Standards and if much is happening then we are not being told.

I’m suggesting the only solution is adequate market surveillance and application of deterrent penalties on UK/EU distributors of non-compliant products. There are manufacturers around the world who purposely make such products; we don’t generally have the means to prevent that. Our only opportunity is to deal with the product when it enters rhe EU by tackling those who import and sell them on.

All distributors should, in my view, be responsible for the provenance of the products they sell. Products that, for example, are CE marked should have robust technical files to support them which will include the test results for the appropriate standard. They should be verifiable through responsible agencies and, if they are not, the product should not be imported. This responsibility should rest with the importer and be fully documented.

However there may be other solutions. Any ideas?

Incidentally, independent testing is widely commissioned by reputable manufacturers and they will be accredited and independently audited to ISO 9001 Quality Management to ensure that as far as possible consistent product is manufactured. Reputable manufacturers will also have independently approved and audited test laboratories to ISO/IEC 17025.

It is tbe rogue manufacturers and their agents we need to focus on. You’d think with 28 EU countries all dealing with this (hopefully) and sharing information (hopefully again) that progress could be made?

When I have bought houses I have not relied on surveys on behalf of the vendors and I don’t know many who would. I guess our ideas on what represents independent testing differ. Which? does not rely on manufacturers commissioning testing. “Once we’ve selected a product for testing we will buy it anonymously. Sometimes we give it a first look to give you our initial impressions, before sending it to our test labs for full in-depth testing.” Saying ‘our test labs’ is a little disingenuous since Which? no longer runs labs, but I have no reason to question the claim of independent testing.

I do not see how this deals with the issue being discussed.

I’ve given a view on the way I believe it should be tackled, a view that seems to accord with that of the Office of Public Safety and Standards and of the EU. When manufacturers use independent labs they are “commisioning” testing just as Which? do.

The major issue is, I believe, poor manufactuers and distributors. We need to tackle them. If there is evidence of reputable manufactuers whose policy is to evade the safety regulations then this is a good place to present the evidence.

If certain products are to have to carry the UKCA certification, which was the point I made above, then I’d like to see all products on sale independently tested. It would be good for us to have a reputation for high standards.

I see no real difference between this and the present situation – it essentially mirrors present requirements for certification and CE marking. Presumably if, for some reason, the UK requires certain products to meet standards that differ from current international ones then national marking will be needed to show local conformity. As the govt statement says in most cases nothing will change.

We are still going to be an international trading nation. To sell our goods and services in Europe and elsewhere abroad will generally mean complying with existing EN and other international standards. As for imported products (regrettably too many) we cannot normally expect other countries to manufacture consumer goods to standards that are different from the rest of the world just for us. We have participated in the development of those standards and hopefully will continue our significant contribution.

I wonder if Which? could work more closely with Trading Standards or any future equivalent to identify delinquent products?

We will have to wait and see what happens but I was a little surprised to read the Which? article for which I provided a link.

Can you still access British Standards? I lost access before Christmas.

BSI produce a list of public libraries that have online access to BSI. Worth seeing if you can join one of these. some, I believe, are open to people outside their area.

Some Convo regulars benefit Which? by discussing products and standards. It seems to me that Which? should support those specific contributors by giving them access to BSOL – I presume (some) Which? staff have this facility? @patrick – Patrick, any chance of this being arranged

We have discussed the BSI list before and I mentioned that their published list is different from the list they provided by email. I have used BSOL in a city centre library but it’s hardly inconvenient, especially after having online access via the Manchester libraries. What I was asking is whether you still have online access from home.

Library Access to Standards. https://www.bsigroup.com/en-GB/about-bsi/uk-national-standards-body/Library-Access-to-Standards/

You can reference standards at the following list of libraries if you reside in the same town or county.
As a consumer, access can help you to become more informed about what to expect from product and service providers.. [My bold]
As a business, access can help you decide which standards should be obtained for your business to achieve greater efficiencies, compliance or what’s required to win new business.
The British Library
National Library of Wales
Bolton Public Libraries
Hull Libraries
Liverpool City Libraries
Lancashire County Library
Staffordshire CC Library
Manchester Public Library
Aberdeen City Council
Leed City Council

“As a consumer, access can help you to become more informed about what to expect from product and service providers”. Only if you live nearby. Residents of Glasgow can access British Standards from home.

Phil says:
13 March 2019

I am surprised that anyone living in the UK is concerned about our ability to set and police health & safety and quality standards. There seems to be an assumption that everything we have in place is down to the EU – just take a look at the history of UK; food, drink and pharma standards and laws which go back to the early 19th century – this will make you realise that much of what the EU delivers is what we originated long before the EU even existed.

With the Government’s plan totally log-jammed in Parliament, I see some consumers are petitioning for an end to Brexit:


Rapidly approaching 3m signatures, despite the servers crashing at least five times, yesterday, when it was launched.

It was suggested that many “signatures” emanate from outside rhe UK. I wonder how the legitimacy of a supporter is assessed.

Perhaps it will reach 16 141 241 signatures in due course?

It has passed the threshold for consideration for a debate, but presumably that won’t happen as it is currently under…… consideration.

Who could have predicted such a shambles of mismanagement and abrogation of responsibility by all politicians?

I suspect that depends on how you interpret the word ‘responsibility’. Many MPs who represent pro-EU constituencies might well feel their responsibility lies – first and foremost – with the interests of their constituents. That, after all, is the way the UK democratic system is supposed to work.

And this is exactly why we don’t govern by plebiscite.

I had to give my UK address when I signed the petition, but the only verification required was to click on a link that arrived by email.

So overseas consumers could be amongst those who have signed the petition.

While Ian says MP’s should represent the views of their constituents that is certainly not enshrined in our constitutional conventions. It is widely, and authoritatively, held that MP’s are free to act entirely according to their conscience, the only qualification to that being that if they were elected on a party manifesto they are under a moral obligation to honour it [but that is frequently flouted – see the new Independent Group]. Obedience to a constituency’s sentiments is one of the last things that MP’s feel obliged to accept.

The current chaos is caused by a large number of MP’s who wilfully defy, and even discredit the intelligence of, their own constituency’s electors. If there is another meaningless vote on the government’s withdrawal agreement and it wins approval, will there then be a clamour for one or two more votes in order to produce a ‘best of five’? Some people will be looking for a penalty shoot-out or a sudden death play-off. I confess that the existing situation has caused me to trivialise what is an exceedingly serious crisis in our democracy.

And those who represent constituencies that voted to leave? However we don’t know how constituencies voted as the results were not counted in this way. Any figures are estimates only.

However, the “responsibility” is that after nearly 3 years we should have reached a decision. Unless it is some political game beyond our understanding.

The referendum expressed the wish to leave the E.U. The government listened. The referendum didn’t stipulate a time frame for this and it could be argued that an orderly exit from 40 plus years of membership is not something that can be done “just like that”. If it takes more consideration and planning to do this, why set a deadline? Why not get it right and then leave? As it is, we now have a situation where two deadlines are in place and neither is long enough to do much good. This forces parliament to make narrow choices based on current time limits rather than getting a broad outline agreed and, crucially, getting on with other business as well. By triggering Article 50, the government set an expectation that the country would leave at the end of the two year process. Far better to have said that, they accepted the will to leave and would do so when ready to do so. The referendum result panicked everyone, though, at that time, two years seemed quite a long time, and perhaps it should have been long enough.
I have already said I believe a second referendum would simply muddy the waters and prove nothing either way and a third one would border on comedy. We have backed ourselves into a corner and the sensible thing to do is to admit this and move on. Leavers will be incandescent because of expectations, but ultimately the transition will be less painful. Europe have offered to cancel Article 50 and instead of a Brexit minister we could have a Brexit cross party committee to take the process forward.

But just how long does it take us to get ready to leave, when the EU has the perfect right to decide the terms upon which we can have “a deal” and we seem to have exhausted that process (as well as all of us and them).

Recently, I think Parliament has failed to play according to the proper rules for the “Deal or No Deal” game, by rejecting both the available deal and also the option of no deal brexit.

And those who assume the EU is dictating the terms of the deal seem unaware that deals are usually struck through negotiation…

Note how MP Mail burgeoned over ‘No10 party issue’, that would not have happened with an MEP controversy- too remote, relatively unaccountable.

Whole ethos: ‘distant’ from authority is anathema to UK culture of accountability. An MP at arm’s length, a relevant concern is immediately advised. Approachable, the message impact is attainable, UK electorate feel their contribution matters.

EU is out in the ether, citizen’s individual opinion of little apparent consequence? Diluted by diversity of cultures and Geography. Exacerbated by extra layers of Bureaucratic Administration.

Example 1: 3 geographic places to administer the governance, with consequent costs of transit- it appears a gravy train of waste and inefficiency.
OK- fair to compare to 4 devolved in UK BUT most local issues file through their region for attention NOT via amorphous puddle of EU complexity.

Example 2: extra tiers of judicial prudence, where judges cultural and geographic influences differ, possibly weakening original criteria.
It gives a ‘last chance salon’ if Supreme Court not considered adequate justice and proponents can afford legal costs to process. Is it over kill? Yes!

Always go forward, accept the challenge. Do not dwell on existing if opportunity for advancement exists. Basically is route back to status quo acceptable? Would brain dwell on the refused opportunity?

Brexit was a ‘no brainer’- opportunity to express freedom of choice. Independence for nation to explore and exploit- nimble, flexible, innovate, potential markets, historic resilience, cultural tenacity, current world economic contribution.

Alternative: continue within EU as No 3. Moribund existence. After accepting Euro this position will still be available.