Will Brexit impact Britain’s compliance with Eurocodes?
With Brexit rumbling on, and the government apparently no nearer to getting a deal agreed with the UK parliament, let alone with the EU, it seems that no-one really knows how the coming months will pan out, and what the ultimate Brexit result will be. Industry as a whole appears reluctant to shout too loudly about the possible short- and long-term impacts of any of the various Brexit scenarios, for fear of unsettling the markets more than they already are. But concerns are mounting within the construction sector, particularly in terms of labour shortages, and pan-European collaboration.
Eurocodes – Under Review
Eurocodes - the EU-wide standards for geotechnical and structural design - have recently come under the spotlight, since they are currently undergoing a comprehensive and far-reaching review, with revised standards due to be adopted in 3-4 years’ time. It’s understandable that questions are being asked about how relevant this review and its outcomes will be for the UK, if we have left the EU by the time that the revised Eurocode standards are implemented.
‘Business As Usual’
However, this concern is misplaced, since the likelihood is that Brexit, in whatever form it eventually takes, will have no real impact on compliance with Eurocodes, and in terms of standards, it will be very much be ‘business as usual’.
Britain At The Forefront of Eurocodes Standards
Whilst certain elements of the media may like to portray Brexit as some kind of liberation from red tape and ridiculous legislation and standards, the fact is that in terms of Eurocodes, the UK has actually been a significant voice in the development of these standards, and it looks set to remain so post-Brexit.
The Eurocodes came into being back at the very earliest days of what was then the EEC, when national standards were perceived to be a barrier to free trade. When Britain joined the EEC in 1972, it had to adopt the Eurocodes, just like all the other countries that have joined the EU since then. The UK’s national standards have, over the years, taken something of a back seat, and many of them have not been updated in years.
This all sounds a bit like Britain will be forced to adopt standards dictated by Europe, with no say in how those standards are developed. Yet actually, the reality is quite far from that. The European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) sits outside of EU legislation, so Brexit does not preclude Britain from continuing its membership. Indeed, at the end of 2018, it was agreed that whatever Brexit outcome was finally agreed, the UK would remain a full member of both CEN and CENELEC, with full voting rights, and that it would continue to be an active participant in technical committees, giving it just as powerful a voice as any other member country.
BSI and The Chequers Plan
There is further protection in place to ensure that the UK continues to adopt the guidelines issued through the Eurocodes. The British Standards Institution (BSI) is responsible for the implementation of Eurocodes within the UK, and The Chequers Plan, which outlines how the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU will work, expressly references the BSI’s role, stating clearly that it will not be permitted to push national standards over EU standards, where they exist. This is perhaps the clearest indication we have that the UK government intends for the Eurocodes to remain at the heart of the construction industry.
That’s not to say that there won’t be pressure from some quarters to step away from some of the obligations of Eurocodes, especially where they involve a significant cost burden. However, it should be remembered that Britain has actually been a major voice in the evolution of the Eurocodes to date, and that it looks set to keep its prominent voice in the current round of revisions and improvements.
The influence of Eurocodes goes way beyond the borders of Europe, with other countries around the world adopting these standards. It would be foolish beyond measure to ditch adherence to such a well-established framework, for the sake of short-term financial benefits or tit-for-tat politics.