Deviation from EU regulatory standards could impact small businesses like Skills Motor Coaches
From the moment prime minister Boris Johnson struck a new Brexit deal with the European Union during the October summit in Brussels, its contents have come under immense scrutiny. In particular, the scope within the new Withdrawal Agreement for the UK to deviate from EU standards on various issues has become a major talking point.
It's Polling Day in the United Kingdom and it has been dubbed the 'Brexit Election'. Naturally, the result will be greatly impacted by the parties' stances on Brexit and electorate's views on the best way forward.
The major difference between Johnson’s revised Withdrawal Agreement and that negotiated by his predecessor Theresa May- other than the removal of the controversial Irish backstop- is the transfer of the commitment to maintain a “level playing field” with the EU from the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement and into the accompanying political declaration on future UK-EU relations.
In short, the commitment for the UK to effectively sign up to a “level playing field” with the EU and maintain common high standards on issues such as state aid, competition, workers’ rights, the environment and climate change is now legally non-binding. Were this to be included in the Withdrawal Agreement, then it would have been a legal obligation, as it was under May’s deal.
Indeed, it is well-known that May favoured close alignment to the EU on various issues, yet the feeling in Johnson’s cabinet is that an inability to diverge and pursue a more independent trade policy would limit the UK’s capacity to agree meaningful trade deals with other countries after Brexit. For a prime minister who favours a future trade deal with a close ally such as the US, this was simply a path that he could not take.
With deviation from EU standards comes a real possibility for the UK to begin setting its own regulations, but for those who have been accustomed to adhering to requirements outlined by Brussels, this could result in more interference in day-to-day business activity in the near future as a result of government legislation.
For Skills Motor Coaches, a coach hire and rental company from Radford, Nottinghamshire, adhering to the most recent environmental and legal standards set out by the EU has been the norm, but it has not always been simple.
Chairman, Nigel Skill, told The Parliamentary Review how having to adhere to updated European standards in order to continue the proper running of the business has been a hindrance, bringing about a sentiment of being ‘saturated’ in legal requirements.
Skill said: “We cover everything that you could do with a bus or a coach. A large part of our business comes from holiday coaching – we take passengers across both Britain and Europe.
“With GDPR having come into effect, we have experienced a massive, systematic roll-out of new staff training and database changes.
“To provide all appropriate team members with a full, comprehensive understanding of this new swathe of data compliance is an onerous task; even the simplest of things, such as providing a driver with his work ticket for the day, must be totally secure.
“It’s made things considerably more difficult – getting the people on the ground to understand the impact and importance of these data regulations is no easy feat.”
Another piece of legislation which has caused the business significant difficulties in the past was having to update its fleet in order to adhere to Euro 6 engine standards, a part and parcel of the EU’s environment policy.
Skill explained: “Coping with new environmental legislation has been a difficult endeavour, also. The requirement for Euro 6 designations [introduced in 2015] has meant that about 50 per cent of our fleet are now equipped with compliant engines.
"The vehicles pose the greatest challenge with regards to reliability – the [Euro 6 compliant] technology is not as well proven as it perhaps could have been, and upskilling our technicians just to identify and diagnose vehicular faults has been a monumental undertaking.
“It’s a completely new area which came as a total surprise – these vehicles arrived with minimal information from manufacturers, and so it’s been a case of trial and error ever since.”
With uncertainty surrounding the future of legal requirements in the transport, travel and tourism industries and what they may look like, particularly under Johnson’s Brexit deal, there is always the chance that businesses such as Skills Motor Coaches will be forced to navigate more changing legislation to meet minimum standards after Brexit.
Yet, the fate of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal is very much in the balance, pending the outcome of December’s general election. The alternatives being proposed by the largest opposition parties, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, effectively constitute a choice between a Brexit option which will keep the UK closely aligned with the EU, or remaining in the bloc entirely.
With the nation at a crossroads, Britain’s SMEs that are currently bound to EU regulations in order to market their product will be holding their breath for the outcome of the election and for which Brexit path the UK will ultimately take.