We are now only a little over three months away from the end of the transition period (TP) that followed the departure of the UK from the European Union on 31 January, 2020.
The purpose of the TP was to smooth the UK’s path from membership of the EU to a fully independent country and to allow for negotiations to continue on the form of the future relationship. As readers will have noted, those negotiations are presently somewhat fraught, but nevertheless are continuing, and it remains the hope that they will result in a free trade agreement to the parties’ mutual economic benefit.
Running parallel with the talks is a legislative process to regularise domestic UK law after 31 December, when the TP ends. One of the problems needed to be addressed is that of ensuring the continuation of an open UK internal market. Hitherto, market regulation for the UK has been conducted at EU level. With the completion of our departure, something else has to be put in its place.
The Government has therefore introduced the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which is currently passing through the Commons. The Bill creates a mechanism for ensuring that businesses in every part of the UK can enjoy equal market access to every other part.
If the new arrangements were not put in place, the consequences for trade within the UK would potentially be very grave. Labelling regulations made in Scotland, for example, could prevent goods produced in Wales from being sold there. Given that most UK trade is conducted within the country, it is essential that such dangers be avoided.
The Bill therefore introduces principles of mutual recognition, meaning that goods produced in accordance with standards prevailing in one part of the UK may be lawfully sold in any other part; and non-discrimination, so that no practices may be introduced in any part of the country that unfairly disadvantage goods produced in another part.
The Bill has proved controversial in some respects, but nevertheless is essential to ensure a smooth domestic trading environment after the end of this year.