UK Chemicals Industry Needs To Speak Up For A Better Brexit


Source: UL - The WERCS

The UK chemicals industry has been urged to unite and make its voice heard in order to ensure the best possible chemical regulatory framework for when Britain formally withdraws from the EU. Chemical Watch’s inaugural Brexit Workshop – which was held in London, England last month – saw a number of speakers encourage industry to speak up publicly about the benefits of REACH.

What Happened At The Brexit Workshop?

The workshop, entitled “Post-Brexit Options For UK Chemicals Law,” took place on September 29, 2017 and was attended by two members of the UL team – Dr Amy Lawrence, one of our Regulatory Assurance Experts, and Senior Consultant Britt Smith. The event featured a speaker panel of industry experts and an audience comprised of industry stakeholders including SMEs, consultancies, NGOs and trade associations.

A common theme present throughout the workshop was the feeling that industry had not been vocal enough about the potentially damaging consequences of Brexit on the UK’s chemical regulatory landscape, and that it must unite in asserting the benefits of REACH.

Speaking at the event, Nigel Haigh OBE – a trustee of the NGO CHEM Trust – urged the audience to “‘proclaim the importance of REACH’” so that the general public and political parties hear the message. This comes just a few weeks after both the Chemical Business Association (CBA) and the Chemical Industries Association (CIA) publicly urged the government not to diverge from REACH. It seems apparent that the chemicals industry fervently wishes to ensure that UK legislation is aligned with REACH, and that regulatory equivalence is maintained.

During her presentation, techUK’s Susanne Baker argued that regulatory divergence between the UK and the EU would lead to further divergence over time with respect to exemptions, time-frames, and even substances, which would add manufacturing complexity and cost. She also added that mainstream media has to date provided inadequate coverage of the chemicals industry’s concerns, and that companies “‘need to make their voices heard’.”

Environmental Audit Committee

In her keynote address at the Brexit Workshop, Labour Member of Parliament (MP) Mary Creagh – who is also chair of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee – urged people to visit their local MPs to raise the issue of the potential negative impacts of Brexit on UK chemicals regulation. In a rare moment of agreement, this was reiterated by Julie Girling – Conservative Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and European Parliament Liaison for ECHA – who was also on the speaker panel.

However, their consensus was short lived as Creagh then went on to discuss the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on The Future of Chemicals Regulation after the EU Referendum, which was published back in April of this year. The report summarizes the findings of the Committee’s inquiry into the future of REACH after the Brexit result (which we wrote about here), and identified a number of key findings:

  • The framework established by the EU through REACH would be difficult to transpose directly into UK law
  • Companies face significant uncertainty over the validity of current REACH registrations after the UK leaves the EU, and the Government must clarify their position as a matter of urgency
  • Government should take a pragmatic approach to the future of the UK’s relationship with the single market for chemicals, and at the very minimum seek to remain involved in the registration process
  • A fully stand-alone system of chemicals regulation for the UK is likely to be expensive for both the tax-payer and for industry
  • Government should look to the experiences of the U.S. when planning the UK’s approach

You can read the Environmental Audit Committee’s report in full here.

The report was published at the end of April 2017, coming just before Prime Minister Theresa May called a General Election. As a result, the Committee felt that the report was somewhat “‘brushed under the carpet’” and was not publicized as much as it should have been.

The government did eventually provide a response to the Committee’s report in July 2017, but Creagh told the audience that it “’did not answer’” the main points that the committee had raised, and failed to use the opportunity to plan how to regulate the chemicals sector after Brexit.

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