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No-deal Brexit could see UK 'flooded with cheap copies of British goods'

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Lorries arriving at Dover. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Britain could be flooded with cheaper foreign copies of UK goods in a no-deal Brexit, a leading manufacturing group has warned.

A representative of the Make UK trade body said some of the key intellectual property (IP) rules protecting UK products from imitations by rivals may lapse if Britain left the EU without an agreement in October.

Sean Nevin, chief economist at Make UK, said British manufacturers could be undercut by global companies and face a “perfect storm” if Britain left without a deal with Brussels.

He said firms may not only lose IP protections, but also face far greater competition as the government’s contingency plans include lowering barriers to foreign goods.

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He told a hearing of parliament’s Brexit select committee on Wednesday: “In the event of a no-deal Brexit, much of the intellectual property protections that we have for UK-patented goods woud cease to apply, so we would be unable to prevent copycat goods flooding the market.”

He said the government planned to allow foreign firms to “undercut British firms” by exporting to the UK without current tariffs.

Nevin said UK manufacturers would be threatened not only at home but also in their exports abroad, because they would face World Trade Organization (WTO) and regulatory tariffs.

“It would be a perfect storm. We’d be creating a huge amount of barriers for British firms in terms of their ability to export overseas while a same time alowing free entry for anybody else to flood our market with cheaper goods,” he said.

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Officials at Make UK fear Britain could lose protections that it currently enjoys under the Hague Convention on intellectual property in a no-deal scenario.

Britain is a signatory of the convention as a member of the EU rather than directly, so there are concerns the UK could face a long wait while applying for membership.

A recent assessment of a no-deal Brexit’s impact on intellectual property by the Law Society, which represents solicitors in the UK, highlighted several other potential issues.

The Law Society said it would no longer be possible for UK customs officials to request EU states take action over goods suspected of infringing copyright on behalf of British companies.

The Law Society’s note suggests rules on recognising and enforcing judgements across borders would cease to apply, EU trademarks would no longer have effect in the UK and UK lawyers would lose their rights to work before EU courts and bodies.

Official advice on the UK government website reads: “The UK will continue to protect all existing registered European Union trade marks, registered community designs, and unregistered community designs after we leave the EU. We will also continue to protect existing EU and EEA EFTA database rights.

“The UK will preserve EU law on patents, copyright and exhaustion of IP rights on the UK statute book. While there will be no change for the importation of goods into the UK, there may however be restrictions on the parallel import of goods from the UK into the EEA.”