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Will ONS’s programme of statistical products and analysis, both in general and, specifically, with regard to the Census, be affected by the decision to leave the European Union – if and when that ever happens?

The National Statistician, John Pullinger, announced in January the publication of the Statutory Instrument that prepares the UK statistical system for a possible no-deal scenario.

John Pullinger, National Statistician

The UK Statistics (Amendment etc.)(EU Exit) Regulations 2019, laid before Parliament on 24 January, revokes a range of EU laws relating to statistics, which currently oblige the UK to undertake specific statistical activity, and to transmit data to Europe.

Since the introduction of the Statistics and Registration Service Act (SRSA) in 2007 the UK has a now well-established and robust legal domestic framework that underpins the UK’s independent statistical system, steers and regulates the production of UK statistics, and ensures they are free from political influence and other bias. It has promoted and safeguarded the UK’s official statistics for over a decade.

It should be noted that existing EU statistics law does not currently form part of the domestic legal framework: it consists of a framework of EU Regulations and Decisions which apply in the UK via the European Communities Act 1972. However, on exit day, section 3 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018  will preserve this law as part of domestic law.

It is important to emphasise that this European law exists independently of, and does not override, the UK’s independent domestic statistical system. European statistics are only those necessary for the performance of the EU’s activities, and Member States retain sole competence to produce statistics as they see fit for national purposes, including where those statistics overlap with EU statistics law. The production, dissemination and regulation of UK statistics operates under the UK’s existing statistical framework, the basis of which lies in the SRSA.

However, the overarching EU law – namely the law establishing the European Statistical System – will be redundant within the UK on exit day and should be revoked. The specific law makes provision for, or in connection with, arrangements which involve the EU and which are no longer appropriate under the terms of the Withdrawal Act. In particular, this law will not operate effectively because the great majority of its obligations attach to all Member States, which will no longer include the UK.

There are a number of reasons why the Government considers that the arrangements set out in EU law are no longer applicable to the UK, and that revocation is the appropriate approach.

Firstly, the great majority of this law requires transmission of statistics by the UKSA to Eurostat. Should the UK leave the EU without a deal the UK would no longer form a part of the European Statistics System. It would clearly be inappropriate and redundant for the UKSA to continue to be legally obliged to send information to Eurostat (even assuming that it remained technically and legally possible for Eurostat to receive it).

Secondly, where EU law expressly or implicitly requires the UK to collect or produce certain statistics to certain standards and classifications, this requirement is inextricable from those transmission requirements. Eurostat relies on national statistical institutes to coordinate collection of data on its behalf so that it may produce statistics relevant to the EU. That, in turn, requires harmonised standards as to what, when and how national statistical institutes collect the data they send to Eurostat. Only in this way can Eurostat obtain consistent data. Once the UK leaves that European system and is no longer obliged to send data to Eurostat (though it may nevertheless choose to continue to do so), it is appropriate to remove them.

Thirdly, this approach is the most consistent with the UK’s domestic statutory framework for the production, dissemination and regulation of statistics established by the SRSA. This provides for relevant standards and classifications to be set and monitored by the UKSA. In particular, the Code of Practice sets practices that are binding with respect to the producers of National Statistics. It also places an overarching duty on the UKSA to ensure that official statistics are sufficiently comprehensive, rather than imposing the highly specific, prescriptive requirements needed under EU law for the European Statistical System to function. Revoking the EU statistics law therefore leaves in place that domestic framework, ensuring that statistics that are appropriate to meet the needs of national users are still collected, regulated and published under domestic powers.

The Government has concluded that here is no significant impact on the public sector, and that such impact as can be expected arises from the removal of now redundant burdens (notably the need to collect and prepare data for transmission to Eurostat, together with the transmission itself). As a consequence, it has been recommended by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (the body appointed to sift all EU exit-related legislation) that the SI does not require a debate in Parliament. It comes into force on 3 May but must  be triggered by Minister when needed, therefore unless the UK leaves the EU with a deal that includes future participation in the European Statistical System, the SI might not be fully used, and it could be amended or repealed as necessary depending on the eventual outcome of negotiations.

Regardless of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the UK statistical system will continue to collect, regulate and disseminate statistics under this domestic framework. The Code of Practice for Statistics will continue to safeguard the comparability and continuity of statistics, and producers will continue to work with decision-makers and users to make sure they have the data they need.

The National Statistician has stressed that ONS remains strongly committed to co-operating closely with the UK’s colleagues in, Eurostat, National Statistical Institutes and other producers of statistics across the EU and beyond to produce high-quality statistics, analysis and advice for the public good.

Eurostat offices, Luxembourg
Representing what was then OPCS, Ian White joined CCG from the outset of the Group way back in the late 1980s to help give the Group some insights into the planning of the 1991 Census. Participation in the Group was part of OPCS's census user consultation programme. Since then he has been the main liaison with OPCS/ONS on census matters, and particularly so since 2004. Since his own retirement from ONS in 2014 he has been acting as an independent international census consultant and has been helping to provide some insight into the planning of the 2021 Census in the context of the UN's world programme of censuses and the experience of other countries' census practices.

 

 

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