Richard North, 14/02/2018  

It's very difficult not to be cynical about the legacy media, and especially when they spend so much time seeking to create the impression of how important that are, while being amongst the last to bring us much of the news – and then so often getting it wrong.

A classic example of this is the saga over vehicle "type approval" certification – the EU-based system which requires the testing of new vehicle types that go on our roads, issuing certification without which none of the models produced can be sold in the EEA.

In the wake of Mrs May's Lancaster House speech, I first brought up this issue in a blogpost dated 10 February 2017. Then, I pointed out that if the UK dropped out of the EU without a deal (something Mrs May thought preferable to a bad deal), the UK's Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) would no longer be able to issue type approval certificates which would be valid in other Member States.

Furthermore, I wrote, it would no longer be approved to carry out "conformity of production" checks. And, without alternative arrangements being made, existing type approvals would also lapse.

There was no question, in my view, that this would be disastrous for the UK industry. It would be forced to take its products to Member State authorities for type approval, and seek complex and expensive arrangements for production supervision and compliance testing.

Given the additional costs and lack of flexibility, this might prove a powerful incentive for our manufacturers to relocate. It would certainly add to the costs and difficulties in using the UK as a base from which to manufacture cars and export them to buyers in the EEA.

Interestingly, prior to the EU referendum, the House of Commons Transport Committee looked at this issue, and was clearly in denial. When the report came out, shortly after the referendum result, it declared that: "We cannot imagine a situation in which the … approvals by the VCA are not recognised in other parts of the world".

The implication was, quite clearly, that the EU would continue to recognise our certification, to which effect the Department of Transport – the Committee suggested - "will need to work with its European counterparts".

In November last year, another House of Commons committee had a bite of the cherry, this one the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. As we recorded at the time, although the issue of type approval was raised, the media completely missed the point. And months later, the Committee itself has yet to report.

It took until 8 February for the European Commission then to issue one of its Notice to Stakeholders, this one headed Withdrawal of the United Kingdom and EU rules in the field of type-approval of motor vehicles.

With the Commission finally having stated the position, it still took two days for the Financial Times to publish a report, by coincidence exactly a year after I had first raised the issue.

Under the headline, "UK car approval agency set to lose EU-wide authority", the self-important Motor Industry Correspondent, Peter Campbell, this told us that "Documents released by the European Commission on Friday stated that 'the United Kingdom approval authority will cease to be an EU type-approval authority” from the withdrawal date of March 30 2019'".

Of course, it would be far too much of a give-away for this august newspaper to report that its information came from a publicly available website and had been published two days earlier – only to be ignored by the bulk (if not all of) the legacy media.

Needless to say, there is none of the detail that explains how the system works, and why the development will be so damaging to the industry. Instead, we are told that "at least five car brands are exploring pulling their business from the UK's government-backed body that approves vehicles for sale in Europe, raising questions over the future of the agency".

This is a bizarre way of framing the story. In short, the situation is that, come Brexit, no manufacturer which relies on type approval from the UK-based VCA will be able to sell its products in the EEA unless, by then, it has made alternative arrangements to get all its models recertified by an agency established in the EU-27. That's the story, and that is what the Commission states in its Notice to Stakeholders.

What the Financial Times emphasises, though, is that "under European rules, cars authorised for sale by one authorisation agency in an EU country can be sold across the bloc". Brands, it says, "are free to chose (sic) any country in the EU to approve their vehicles, even if they do not manufacture in that country".

We then learn that Mini cars, though mostly made in the UK, are approved in Germany, while cars from the Czech Republic brand Skoda are certified in Britain at the VCA.

Car manufacturers, we are then told, "require fresh certificates for new models, which are released roughly every seven years, but also for significant design or engine alterations, which can happen more frequently". This means, writes Peter Campbell, "that all of the car manufacturers that use the VCA will have to find a European alternative within a few years of Britain leaving the EU".

But that is not the case. Campbell has misread the Notice and is massively understating the position. The Commission tells us:
Motor vehicles within the scope of Directive 2007/46/EC may only be registered, sold and enter into service if they are accompanied by a valid certificate of conformity issued by the manufacturer attesting that the vehicles have been manufactured in conformity with the EU type-approval granted by a Member State authority.

For the purposes of Directive 2007/46/EC, "approval authority" means "the authority of a Member State with competence for all aspects of the approval of a type of vehicle, system, component or separate technical unit or of the individual approval of a vehicle; for the authorisation process, for issuing and, if appropriate, withdrawing approval certificates; for acting as the contact point for the approval authorities of other Member States; for designating the technical services and for ensuring that the manufacturer meets his obligations regarding the conformity of production".
The Commission continues:
As from the withdrawal date, Directive 2007/46/EC will cease to apply to the United Kingdom. This means that, as from that date, the United Kingdom approval authority will cease to be an EU type-approval authority under Directive 2007/46/EC. As a result, it will not be possible as from the withdrawal date for a manufacturer to place on the Union market motor vehicles accompanied by a certificate of conformity referring to a type-approval granted by the United Kingdom approval authority formerly competent under EU law.
From the moment we leave the EU, therefore – unless covered by an appropriate provision in any transitional agreement - sales of UK certificated cars in the rest of the EU will no longer be permitted. There is no question of having to seek new approvals within a "few years". This is a "sudden death" situation, with potentially massive consequences.

Campbell, though, meanders through his report, noting that several major brands, including Jaguar, Land Rover, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Skoda, Peugeot and Citroën use the VCA, each paying several hundred thousand pounds for each new model that is approved by the agency. He then adds:
Two of the brands involved are already in discussions with another European agency to do the work, while another has decided to leave the VCA, according to several people. Two other brands are also considering leaving the VCA though have not selected another European operator, according to one person familiar with the process.
Clearly, that person is not that familiar with the process. The industry is faced with a massive task of transferring the type approval certification for every one of its models to a new authority, at the cost of tens of millions of euros, with no guarantee that the process can be completed by the time we leave the EU.

Furthermore, the EU law requires that industry must appoint representatives established in the Union to represent them before the Member State type-approval authorities.

The Commission states that manufacturers' representatives established in the United Kingdom will not, as from the withdrawal date, be considered as established in the Union. Therefore, UK manufacturers established will have to appoint representatives who are established in the EU-27.

Even though car manufacturers are multi-national companies, this will involve huge disruption and it will require the relocation of much of each manufacturers' regulatory departments to relocate outside the UK.

Nothing of the flavour of this, however, is conveyed by the FT and, to date, the only other news organ which has picked up the story is AoL News, plagiarising the FT and thereby getting much of the story wrong.

As for the FT, even when it is given the story on a plate by the European Commission, it still gets the important details wrong – and comes in a year after we had broken the story.

Even then, the rest of the legacy media has gone to sleep, as indeed have the politicians – who also seem to be unable to grasp the enormity of what it happening.

And thus is my point made: It's very difficult not to be cynical about the legacy media (and the politicians). They and the massed ranks of the pundits are making a pig's ear out of reporting Brexit, doing themselves and us no service at all.

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