These rules don’t apply solely to EU members—any company that wants to sell its products within the bloc’s common market must abide by them, too. A U.S.-based smoked-salmon company, for example, would need to follow the same product and safety standards as Forman’s to sell its goods in EU markets.
Read: In a bid to “take back control,” Britain lost it
For some of the business leaders opposed to EU regulatory standards, though, the issue isn’t just whom these rules apply to, but how they’re applied. Simon Boyd, the managing director of the Dorset-based steel manufacturer REIDsteel, argues that such rules disproportionately affect small-to-medium-size enterprises such as his.
“The same regulatory burden has to be suffered by a small business as it does by a company with 10,000 employees,” he told me by phone from his company’s headquarters in southwest England. REIDsteel, by comparison, employs just 130 people. Boyd noted that its size isn’t reflective of its reach: The company exports to 140 countries, including some in the EU. “We have to compete in a world market against America, China, Australia,” Boyd said. “These companies do not have to comply with the EU regulatory burden that we have … So Brexit, for us, is a hurrah moment. It’s where we can free ourselves from these chains and this burden that’s held our business back.”
The reality isn’t so simple. Britain is unlikely to roll back existing regulations once it leaves the EU, and it won’t necessarily deviate from the bloc’s future regulatory changes. “We’re almost certainly going to stay aligned with the EU so that we can continue exporting to them, because they are our largest export market,” Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London and a senior fellow at U.K. in a Changing Europe, told me.
For many sectors, including food, the British government has already confirmed as much. In a statement in February, Prime Minister Theresa May said that leaving the EU would not result in Britain lowering its standards for things such as workers’ rights, environmental protections, or health and safety. “Taking back control,” May told the House of Commons in February, “cannot mean giving up control of these standards.”
Julian Morgan, the managing director of KPM Marine, a marine-products manufacturer in Birmingham, told me that his reasons for supporting Brexit have nothing to do with regulation. “We work to a global standard, which is set by the International Maritime Organization,” he said. “European standards make no difference to us.”
And neither does access to European markets. Though KPM Marine is a local manufacturer, its products are exported to 38 countries globally—the majority of which Morgan said aren’t in the EU. For him, Brexit presents an opportunity for Britain to trade more with the rest of the world, just as his company already does. When I asked him about concerns surrounding a no-deal Brexit such as a fall in the value of the pound or congestion at British ports, he dismissed them. “If I send a consignment to Holland and the same consignment to Singapore, the only thing that changes on the paperwork is the address,” he said.