What the first fruits of Brexit might mean

Former editor, IOSH Magazine

Most of the consequences of the UK’s decision to leave the EU will only play out in the medium term. 

The effects on inward investment, the balance of trade with Europe and the rest of the world and overall economic growth rates are almost impossible to predict as they will be influenced by too many variables. 

But there were a few immediate repercussions. One of these was the change of prime minister midway through  last month, followed by changes at the top of most ministries. 

The reshuffle brought Penny Mordaunt to the post of disability minister, with OSH regulation in general and the Health and Safety Executive in particular as part of her portfolio. 

In her former post at the Ministry of Defence, Mordaunt was tasked last year with apologising on behalf of the government for the deaths of three army reservists from heat stroke on a selection exercise in the Brecon Beacons in 2013. 

She said that training military personnel to the highest level involved individuals taking some risk. “However as an organisation we must ensure that this is balanced with the need to ensure the risks are effectively mitigated,” she noted.

Her previous post was parliamentary under-secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government. There she supported a Bill to give the local government ombudsman the power to investigate complaints that local authorities had unfairly stopped public events on safety grounds. 

Mordaunt promised the Bill “will not weaken the very necessary and important health and safety arrangements that exist to protect employees and the public health and safety regime in place nationally”.

Such statements suggest a sympathy with the current OSH infrastructure which is welcome at a time when some fear that Brexit could provide an opportunity for softening the UK’s regulatory regime on worker protection in the name of deregulation. That’s not something that would be welcomed by the leading safety and health bodies. 

Nor, it seems, by practitioners. A request in our weekly e-newsletter for readers to nominate regulations that could be overhauled post-Brexit drew no suggestions from almost 40,000 recipients.

The only government comment on the issue since the referendum came on 21 July from attorney general Jeremy Wright in response to Labour member Nick Thomas-Symonds’ request for an assurance Brexit would not weaken OSH laws. Wright’s answer: “it’ll not in all likelihood be the case that all of those rules and regulations will be dispensed with altogether”, fell short of the guarantee Thomas-Symonds was seeking.

In this early period of flux after what is likely to have been an epoch-defining decision, there will be many people and businesses who would be glad of some clarity in this area. But as with so many other aspects of the post-Brexit settlement, we will have to just keep reading the signs.


Louis Wustemann is former editor, IOSH Magazine. He was previously editor of Health and Safety at Work magazine and Environment in Business. He has written, edited and consulted on health and safety, environmental and employment matters for more than 25 years.

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