The UK May Have Brexited, But The Solid Fuel Industry’s Ties To Europe Will Only Grow Stronger…

So that’s it. We’ve left. Britain has now Brexited.

Four-and-a-half-years of wrangling, and the scalps of two Prime Ministers later, the UK is no longer bound by European Union regulations.

It now has the ability to choose its own path in a whole bunch of areas.

“So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu,” as the song goes.

Whether this is a success or not remains to be seen. I imagine the overall picture will end up mixed, depending on which area you look at.

In terms of the impact on my own industry, it is likely we’ll see some tweaks, but overall we’ll continue to broadly chart a similar path.

And in areas where we have hitherto differed, convergence is and was already happening. Not by EU diktat, but just some plain old common sense.

Woodburners: Prices & Availability

The trade deal, struck on December 24, will hopefully mean no noticeable variations on the price of appliances. The likes of Morso and Jotul – well established Scandinavian brands in the UK market – will continue to sell here, as well as many others.

There is talk of more paperwork and bureaucracy for goods entering and leaving the Eurozone, the extent of which I imagine will take some time to work out.

The cost of raw materials, which would be a global matter in any case rather than an EU one, will have the biggest effect on pricing.

Labelling will change slightly, though more on that in a minute…

FuelA Double Whammy?

This is one area which is most likely to be noticed by the customer as logs are regular purchases, so variations will be pretty much instant.

Many of our logs are important from places such as Latvia and, again as a raw material, is quite susceptible to price fluctuations.

Even if there are no direct tariffs, other variables may come into play, such as the border issues/additional paperwork mentioned above.

It’s also worth pointing out that the UK government has slapped an additional layer of bureaucracy on logs by mandating that, starting this year, sellers sign up to the ‘Ready To Burn’ scheme. This is in an effort to cut the amount of unseasoned wood being burnt, and therefore reduce particulate emissions.

So this time next year, logs sourced both in the UK and Europe will have additional ‘red tape’ attached to them.

In that scenario, it’s hard to see how prices will do anything other than increase. How much of that is purely down to Brexit may not be measurable for some time.

Ecodesign Labelling

Equally as unclear is exactly whether UK Ecodesign standards, due to come in 2022, will vary significantly from the EU’s own Ecodesign standards.

Just to be clear, Ecodesign is all about standards after 2022 for energy emitting products. These include TVs, fridges, computers and, of course, wood and multi fuel stoves.

It does NOT have any effect on stoves made or installed before then and certainly doesn’t mean stoves – old of otherwise – will be banned.

It’s important to note that Ecodesign is very much an EU project and one which the UK government has heavily embraced as part of its own Clean Air Strategy (which includes the Ready to Burn initiative mentioned earlier).

I spent a fair amount of time trawling the appropriate official sources and the only thing tangible I could see at this stage is that the EU flag on the Ecodesign labelling will be changed with the British flag.

Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, businesses based in Northern Ireland will continue to follow EU Ecodesign and Energy Labelling rules to place products on the GB, NI or EU markets.

So a bit like the endless debate we had on the colour of passports, it appears that at this juncture, it’s not so much the substance will change, but more the style.

One specific divergence which is worth mentioning is the launch last year of the Clear Skies Mark initiative. This seeks to encourage the industry to move beyond the minimum requirements set by the regulations. Again, this was an industry move and not something which needed governmental orders.

Raising Standards

I think it’s important to understand that a lot of cooperation with our European friends from a sweeping point of view never needed EU interference anyway. It’s always been a pragmatic sharing of best practice, and there’s no reason for that to change.

Take just one area: the environment. For the most part, their emissions levels are much lower than ours. This is because, quite frankly, they have been burning wood on stoves for generations and know how to do it properly.

My visit to Sweden in early 2020, just before the pandemic hit, very much opened my eyes to this.

The UK, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer to woodburning and stoves. Due to our natural resources, we mostly burnt coal on open fires. So tips from generations ago, although mostly now outdated, got passed down to people with woodburning stoves who started employing them on their new appliances, sometimes with very poor results.

We have a long way to go in this country with awareness of good burning practices, service and maintenance, but we are making progress, with initiatives such as the chimney sweeps-led Burnright campaign.

In Europe, chimney sweeps are much more respected as a trade by the general public than they are in the UK.

Again, that is changing with the continual professionalisation of the industry, led by the sweeping associations who make up the Federation of British Chimney Sweeps, and the formal trade status now available for sweeps via the NVQ route.

This is positive news and will hopefully allow us to move away from old stereotypes.

In Conclusion…

At this moment in time, only a fool would predict how Brexit will precisely affect the UK as whole.

But my own sense is, that when it comes to its impact on the solid fuel sector, our ties to Europe and convergences with European practices will continue to become stronger.

And to be fair that was happening anyway. With or without Brexit.

So as we now chart our own path for the first time since 1973, forgive me if I feel all this excitable talk of A New Dawn rings a little hollow.

Instead, I find myself reaching for those famous words by French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…”

Mr Soot Chimney Sweep is a fully qualified sweep and a member of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps based in the Manchester and South Lancs area

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