Consumer group: UK could be flooded with dangerous products after Brexit

The UK could be flooded with a “rising tide” of dangerous products if the government does not reform its consumer rights systems, consumer group Which? has warned in a new report — and the issue could be compounded by Brexit.

After leaving the European Union, the UK will be excluded from its information-sharing networks and early-warning systems about unsafe products on the market, unless it establishes an agreement to maintain access.

“If it is to make people’s safety the number one priority, the government must secure access to the European alert and information sharing systems after Brexit, as well as introduce major domestic reforms to ensure consumers are properly protected from unsafe products,” Caroline Normand, director of advocacy at Which?, said in a statement.

According to Which?, the European Commission’s rapid-warning system Safety Gate flagged 2,064 dangerous non-food products on the market in 2018, compared with 1,542 in 2008 — a rise of more than a third.

Sue Davies, strategic policy partner at Which?, told CNN that an improvement in reporting systems could have contributed to the rise, but called the figures “concerning.”

The most problematic product categories in 2018 were toys and motor vehicles: There were 655 safety alerts for toys, and 419 for motor vehicles.

A further 200 alerts were issued for clothing, textiles and fashion, 176 for electrical appliances and 121 for cosmetics.

This year, Which? noted, products including Honda car models with explosive airbags, a flammable child’s Stormtrooper costume and HP laptop batteries that pose a fire risk have already been recalled.

The consumer group has called for the UK government to establish intelligence-sharing systems with non-EU countries, in addition to maintaining access to existing EU systems. Brexit will add “extra challenges,” Sue Davies said, calling on the government to “put in place a really effective system that makes it clear that product safety is a priority.”

The government should also turn its Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) into an independent body, Which? said. Davies told CNN, “The product safety system in the UK is under strain.”

“The responsibility falls to local trading standards officers who do a really good job,” Davies explained. “But there’s been really significant cuts to the service in some parts of the country.”

“Often, local authorities are dealing with big multinational companies,” she said.

In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for the UK’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to which the OPSS belongs, said: “The Government’s top priority is to keep people safe and that is why we set up for the first time a specialist government body, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, in January 2018 to identify and manage consumer risks.”

“Ongoing data exchange with the EU about unsafe products remains subject to negotiation but, whatever the outcome, the Product Safety Database which OPSS is building will ensure regulators can access and exchange data securely and effectively,” the spokesperson continued.