Brexit, Britain and Bikes – what’s happening?

Brexit, Britain and Bikes – what’s happening?


That referendum back in 2016 seems a very long time ago now and whether you voted to leave or to remain you’re no doubt sick of the endless bickering over Brexit. But with the publication of the white paper on Brexit we have finally got a glimpse of the plans that Teresa May’s government hopes to put in place when the UK officially leaves the EU next March. 

And yes, there’s plenty in there about immigration, free movement, security, fishing and a host of other things that Brexit will impact, but this is BikeSocial, so you’ll want to know how Brexit will affect motorcycling. 

Of course, we have to stress that at the moment this is just an outline plan; it’s sure to be tweaked, modified, argued over and perhaps even thrown out altogether. Given the rocky road Brexit has taken so far, it’s impossible to rule anything out. But if, somehow, the Government manages to agree among itself and push these ideas through, and if they’re accepted by the EU negotiators as well, they show at how at least a few things will change – or not – as Britain sails away from the EU. 


1: Goods 

The concept of the Single Market is surely the element of the EU that touches us all more than any other on a day-to-day basis. It allows the free movement of goods, services, people and money within the EU without restrictions or additional taxes. 

It means you can buy a BMW made in Germany without paying extra tax on it, and that Triumph and Norton can sell their British-made machines into EU nations without suffering tariffs that might make them less competitive.  

But it’s also the part of the EU rules that leads to the migration of workers from poorer countries to richer ones, one of the main bones of contention when it comes to the entire Brexit argument.  

Under the plans in the White Paper, the Government proposes a free trade area for goods, with a ‘facilitated customs arrangement’ that means goods imported into the UK from the EU, and exported from the UK to the EU, won’t have to undergo customs checks or be subject to tariffs or quotas. In short, it aims to keep trade between the EU and the UK unchanged as much as possible. 

However, when it comes to goods imported from outside the EU – including most motorcycles, of course – the UK intends to be able to set its own tariffs and trade policies. Exactly how bikes from factories in Japan, America, Indonesia, Thailand or India – all places that currently supply motorcycles into our market – would be taxed will depend on whatever trade deals are done with those countries and what import duties the UK decides to set. 

That, in turn, means there would be some fuss when it comes to establishing the final destination of goods shipped to the UK. Anything imported here but intended to be resold into the EU would need to be taxed at EU rates, while goods imported here and intended to be resold directly into the UK market would be taxed at UK rates.  


2: Regulations and type-approval 

Given that the White Paper envisions a free trade area for goods within the UK and the EU, it inevitably means that our rules when it comes to motorcycles will need to remain harmonised with those used in the EU.  

That means the same emissions limits, the same regulations on lighting, noise, dimensions and the myriad other details that go into the design of a bike.  

And that makes sense. Plenty of countries outside the EU – for instance Australia and Japan – are already ensuring that their type-approval regulations are closely tied to those used in Europe to ensure that vehicles made for one market can easily be certified for use in another without expensive redesigns.   

The White Paper says: 

The common rulebook would include the type approval system for all categories of motor vehicles. The UK and the EU would continue recognising the activities of one another’s type approval authorities, including whole vehicle type approval certificates, assessments of conformity of production procedures and other associated activities. Member State approval authorities would continue to be permitted to designate technical service providers in the UK for the purpose of EC approvals and vice versa. 

Both the UK and the EU would continue to permit vehicles to enter into service on the basis of a valid certificate of conformity. Once in production, the UK and the EU would continue to recognise the ongoing role of type approval authorities, including monitoring of a manufacturer’s conformity of production procedures and issuing any extensions or revisions to existing type approval certificates. UK and EU type approval authorities would continue to uphold their current obligations, including working closely with other authorities to identify non-conformities and ensure appropriate action is taken to rectify them. 


3: Travel 

Riding abroad is one of the joys of motorcycling – whether it’s a lightning weekend dash to Assen to catch the GP or a months-long trek to the furthest-flung parts of the world. So the deal that the UK manages to strike with Europe when it comes to tourism and driving licences will be something all of us keep a close eye on. 

At the moment, though, it remains a bit murky. The new white paper says that it wants to “allow citizens to travel freely, without a visa, for tourism and temporary business activity” – which would be good when it comes to riding abroad. However, there’s no mention of how driving licences or insurance might work when travelling in the EU. Presumably these are details that simply can’t be addressed until the more fundamental issues surrounding the movement of people and harmonisation of regulations can be nailed down. It’s quite possible that, when riding in Europe after Brexit, you’ll need to pay for an International Driving Permit. OK, that’s just £5.50 and can be had from a post office, but it’s another niggling aspect of the Brexit deal that will eventually have to be dealt with. 

In terms of insurance, at the moment insurers can issue a ‘green card’ as proof you’re covered when you’re driving in non-EU countries, and the same might well become necessary when travelling in the EU after Brexit. 

Other question marks hang over what happens to those who currently sport the ‘Euro’ GB number plates on their bikes or cars – will they still be a valid alternative to GB stickers? Will they remain valid at all, even in the UK 

And what about our own driving licences? At the moment, ever one of them carries the European flag in its top left corner. Will we need to get them replaced with new, UK-specific ones?  

This sort of detail will all need to be sorted out before 31 December 2020, when the transition period away from EU membership comes to an end. 

More clarity, more questions 

While the publication of the Government’s position when it comes to Brexit answers a few questions, it poses more and, throughout it all, we need to remember that it’s really little more than a wish-list. It might illustrate how Teresa May wants Brexit to go ahead, but there’s still a huge amount of negotiation, argument and compromise ahead before a final deal is nailed down. 

Or not nailed down, of course. As each month passes the Brexit deadlines loom nearer and the chances of Britain leaving the EU without a deal grows more likely. That could bring chaos in terms of trade, regulations, borders, but until the prospect becomes real enough for the Government to establish what its tactics will be in a no-deal Brexit, particularly when it comes to trade, it’s impossible to explore in detail how it could impact motorcycling.