Little heralded perhaps, but important, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has issued a White Paper entitled “UK Internal Market” and the need for it shows how far we have come, backwards mainly that this is an attempt to fix it.
It is a symptom of the regulatory state that we even have to consider the subjects in the White Paper, but as our commercial life is mired in bureaucracy and unlikely to crawl out any time soon, the effect of that bureaucracy to impede business is being looked at, in the context of a possible fragmentation of rule-making that could stop seamless operations of business across the United Kingdom, as has been enjoyed since 1707, and 1801.
Britain left the European Union, thank goodness, on 31 January this year, and the co-ordinating rules of its Single Market are dropping away. At the same time, those political parties which campaigned to keep powers in Brussels, now demand that those powers be handed to the devolved authorities, so they can make a right hash of it, but more to the point, the paper raises the point that a divergence of standards and licensing regimes would lead to companies’ having to produce different goods or labelling in different parts of the country, or limit their business to one corner of the land.
The worst aspect politically is that devolved authorities, being controlled by hostile opposition parties, will be driven to differ from the rules in England for political reasons and despite the interests of those affected by the rules – businesses and consumers. The paper only hints at that, but we can read between the lines.
It is a paper of 105 pages, largely because it constantly repeats itself, but that should not be harsh criticism, because after the many opening pages of fluff (which I would have written very differently), it comes to the main points for action: a non-discrimination principle and continual input by affected businesses. Both are excellent principles. Both should be used not only to squash future divergent burdens but also existing ones.
Four questions are raised, summarised as:
- Should the government seek to mitigate against both ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ discrimination in areas which affect the provision of goods and services?
- What areas do you think should be covered by non-discrimination but not mutual recognition?
- What would be the most effective way of implementing the monitoring of the Internal Market and business and consumer engagement and should particular aspects be delivered through existing vehicles or through bespoke arrangements?
- How should the Government best ensure that these functions are carried out independently and are fully representative of the interests of businesses and consumers across the whole of the UK?
They are good questions. The fact that these questions even have to be asked is worrying, but they do.
The questions need input from those who understand their own businesses, and by all accounts the government will actually listen to them (which will be a Cummingsesque shock to the Civil Service, if they do not find a way to frustrate it). The White Paper indeed contains examples and quotes from businesses showing that a good consultation has already begun.
There is little time to respond, with observations and even ideas. This should be shaped by the reality of business – I was going to write “and not ideology”, but that is impossible.
These subjects may have to be the subject of more articles on this site, adding to those previously published.
Link to the White Paper
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- Ulster’s Last Stand?: Reconstructing Unionism After the Peace Process by James W. Mcaukey
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