UK retailers must comply with a huge array of regulation, much of it from Brussels. The referendum raises key questions about that regulation.

The most obvious question is: in the event of a decision to leave the EU, will that regulation still apply in the UK? The simple answer is yes, it will.

Transfer of powers

It will apply unless and until the competent authority in the UK (that may be Westminster or the devolved administrations) chooses to repeal or change it. In other words, Brexit by itself will not change regulations in this country, but it will change who is responsible for those regulations.

“The lack of clarity about the future of regulation in the UK also creates political and economic uncertainty, and that does not create a good environment for investment or business development”

I anticipate that in the event of a vote to leave the EU, interest groups of all persuasions will be lining up at the doors of government to make their case for change to those regulations, the responsibility for which will have transferred from Brussels to the UK.

My advice to retailers is to prepare for this eventuality. We shall be helping our members by preparing inventories of the powers that would be transferred from Brussels to the UK, by considering if and how we want regulation covered by these powers to change and, finally, by making our case to the relevant authorities in a timely way.

Of course, the lack of clarity about the future of regulation in the UK also creates political and economic uncertainty, and that does not create a good environment for investment or business development. To help dispel that uncertainty, I have written to the Vote Leave campaign to ask them for their vision of regulation in a post-Brexit UK.

Regulation reform

This does not mean that we shall have nothing to do in the event of a vote to stay in the EU. Far from it. I have already written to the government to encourage them to address weaknesses in the EU’s regulatory system as part of its “reform negotiations”.

I’m encouraged that the government has listened to us and others and has secured some aspirational statements about better regulation in the agreement reached between the Prime Minister and his EU counterparts in February.

Nevertheless, aspirational statements themselves won’t deliver good regulation and, should the country to vote to remain in the EU, our focus will be on ensuring that the EU adopts better mechanisms for making its laws.

“We also want to see much more effective mechanisms in Brussels to ensure that when EU rules are made, everyone sticks to them”

In particular, we want the EU to use some of the tools and principles that have been developed in the UK to ensure better regulation. These include a commitment to reducing the quantum of regulation and the introduction of more “evidence-based” law making through a thorough use of Impact Assessments.

We also want to see much more effective mechanisms in Brussels to ensure that when EU rules are made, everyone sticks to them. Our concern here relates in particular to the very patchy application of EU Single Market rules in some other EU countries, which can have the effect of restricting UK retailers’ ability to operate in those markets.

In or out of the EU we shall be working to secure the best regulatory environment for our members.

  • Helen Dickinson, chief executive, British Retail Consortium