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What Does Brexit Mean For You?

What Does Brexit Mean For You?

SO… IT’S BREXIT. THE VOTE was close, but our new Prime Minister, Mrs May, has promised that the referendum decision will be upheld. What will it mean for classic enthusiasts?

First, we must remember that - at the moment - we are still in the EU and bound by all its rules. Britain won’t actually reach the exit until Article 50 (that’s the formal resignation statement) has been triggered, and negotiations relating to our departure have been concluded. Some people have likened it to a divorce the couple is still technically married until the legal proceedings have been completed and they’ve agreed how to split the furniture. The main difference is that, unlike the EU break-up, they’re not required to remain together in the meantime, smiling uneasily at the cameras!

Anyway, as far as EU regulations are concerned, nothing will change immediately. Indeed; perhaps nothing much will change in the future. The sheer complexity of the problem, and the difficulty of unravelling existing rules, can be glimpsed by exploring just one piece of legislation: copyright law. British copyright made a distinction between one-off works of art, and industrially reproduced designs. The former are protected for 75 years after the death of the person who created them, but industrially reproduced designs were treated differently and only protected for 25 years [after death]. Here, Britain was out of step with other EU countries, which don’t make that distinction - all designwork being protected for the longer period.

After intense lobbying by interested parties - not, it should be stressed, the EU - it was decided that Britain ought to conform to the European system. Accordingly, an amendment was proposed that would change our law in 2020. However; those same lobbyists (who stood to gain, financially, from extended copyright) invoked EU ‘fairness’ rules - claiming that some copyright holders would suffer unfair treatment if the amendment were not brought in as quickly as possible. And they were successful: it has already come into force, on the 28th of July.

This extended protection period is potentially a disaster for us, because design copyright affects all manner of classic car parts - from kit-car bodyshells to individual components like door-mirrors and washerbottles. The ’75 years after…’ rule has been used elsewhere to justify the seizure and destruction of classic replicas. Not nice… but just imagine the difficulties involved in getting this amendment revoked. It undoubtedly came about because of our membership of the EU, and its implementation was directly affected by EU rules - but it wasn’t actually an EU directive. And it seems unlikely that it will be high on anyone’s ‘to do’ list once we’ve left.

Another area that probably won’t change is Type Approval and Single Vehicle Approval. The traditional British approach to product safety was via British Standards - the law required that particular items (say, a car’s rear lights) should meet the relevant BS, and be marked accordingly. If a rear light broke, and you couldn’t get another one, you’d be free to fit an alternative - provided it also met the Standard. However; the EU’s Type Approval scheme approves the entire vehicle, which can’t then be changed. Leaving the EU may mean that Type Approval is no longer strictly necessary for UK registered cars, but it will presumably remain on the Statute Book.

It will doubtless be a similar story with ethanol in petrol, which is already wreaking havoc on glassfibre motorcycle tanks, rubber fuel lines and carburettor internals - and will cause much more damage as the bio-percentage rises. The EU has taken the lead here, and it’s notable that E-10 fuel has become difficult to avoid on the continent. But the UK has made its own climate-change promises, so the introduction of the dreaded ‘devil juice’ seems inevitable. Incidentally; the price of petrol is going to rise in the short term. This mainly reflects the price of crude, but the pound falling in value against the dollar does make things marginally worse. (Most of the cost of petrol is actually excise duty, of course.)

Brexit might affect our insurance payments. There’s VAT on insurance. This, and the manner in which VAT is applied, is an EEC/EC/EU invention - traditionally, in the UK we only taxed luxury goods. Motor insurance is a legal requirement, and certainly can’t be classed as a luxury! Reverting to something more like the old Purchase Tax system would see it tax exempted. That apart, the EU took two decisions that directly impacted the cost of insurance. Firstly, it required the basic legal level of motor insurance to be valid anywhere within the EU. Understandable, perhaps, for ‘Shchengen Area’ countries with invisible land borders - but not for island Britain. Removing that requirement ought, in theory, to reduce rates. Secondly, the EU decided that using gender to determine quotations was discriminatory. Thanks to this EU ruling, rates for women went up although, thinking about it, the rates for men didn’t seem to come down!

Some people have been suggesting that, postBrexit, it will become difficult to visit other European countries. There’s even talk of visas. Nonsense. I drove through Europe in 1968 - well before Britain’s entry into the Common Market - and the bureaucratic necessities were minimal. The RAC did it all for a small fee. Italy offered tourists cutprice petrol coupons that had to be bought in advance, while a customs indemnity form was required (guaranteeing vehicle repatriation in the event of accident/breakdown). Plus an international driving licence. Hardly insurmountable obstacles… Anyway, non-EU residents nowadays travel freely throughout the EU, for up to 90 days, without a visa. And even our reciprocal medical cover, currently via the EHIC form, seems safe - the NHS spends more on other EU citizens than their countries spend on us. So cutting the UK out of the scheme wouldn’t make sense.

The Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs is waiting to see how negotiations for Britain’s EU exit will affect historic vehicles. But perhaps the most important point is this: we now decide how we will define those vehicles and how we will use them.

David Landers
lobby@classicmotor.co.uk

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From Landers Lobby, page 10 of August 2016 issue.
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