UK left the EU at the end of January 2020
The UK left the EU at the end of January 2020; the UK is now in a transition period with the EU, which means that EU chemical and other laws remain in force until at least the end of 2020.
Trade negotiations will start shortly.
Here’s our comment on the new situation:
“In CHEM Trust’s view it is essential that the UK stays as close as possible to the EU’s REACH chemicals regulatory system after Brexit, as this will ensure the best protection of our health and the environment. It is clear that in order to be involved in the REACH system the UK must accept the need to continue to align with the EU’s chemical-related laws, as then the EU27 may accept continued UK involvement in ECHA, and UK business would then benefit from continuing to be in the REACH system. Any suggestion of divergence or even just ’non regression’ with current rules will rule out REACH membership, with negative impacts for industry.
The timeline is short, with a real risk of an exit with no trade deal at the end of 2020, which would be similar to a no-deal exit for England, Wales and Scotland, though Northern Ireland will remain in REACH. We need the new government to ensure this doesn’t happen, even if this means asking the EU for a further extension to the transition period before the end of June 2020″
- Chemical Watch quoted CHEM Trust along with industry stakeholders in their story “UK government pressed to secure post-Brexit EU regulatory alignment“.
Revised Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration
A revised ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ and ‘Political Declaration’ were negotiated between the Johnson Government in the UK and the EU27 and published in October 2019.
CHEM Trust executive director, Michael Warhurst, told Chemical Watch it was “very worrying” that while the revised political declaration has retained references on possible cooperation with Echa, the words that had followed on – “in this context, the UK will consider aligning with Union rules in relevant areas” – have gone.
As a result, said Mr Warhurst, “it is clear that the UK will only be able to have full access to REACH if it is fully dynamically aligned with REACH controls and related EU chemical laws.”
A commitment to non-regression on environmental standards also disappeared from the revised Withdrawal Agreement, as it was part of the UK wide backstop which has been changed to a Northern Ireland-only protocol.
The Johnson Government published a draft Environment Bill, on 15th October which gives Ministers sweeping powers to amend the UK REACH regulations, and contains several measures which could seriously undermine water quality protections.
A Chemical Watch story(€) reported CHEM Trust’s concerns with the bill:
“Executive director of CHEM Trust Michael Warhurst told Chemical Watch his main concern with the Bill is that the power of modification it gives to the environment secretary “could be used to reduce the level of protection of public and the environment from hazardous chemicals”.
The government, he added, has already announced a ‘Brexit red tape challenge’ “aimed at deregulating laws, and they have removed text in the revised political declaration, which said that the UK would “consider aligning with Union rules in relevant areas” in order to facilitate cooperation” with Echa.
Mr Warhurst said the NGO will be thoroughly examining the individual REACH articles to establish which ones should be added to the ‘protected’ list. It will also scrutinise the potential to amend this law “with a provision which would oblige the UK to keep chemical regulations and controls in line with EU ones as they develop”.
He added that there are “tens of thousands of chemicals in use and Echa is constantly finding new problems that need to be regulated. We don’t want the UK to fall behind in these protections, either due to lack of regulatory capacity or lobbying from chemical producers.”
- CHEM Trust’s views were featured in a House of Commons library briefing on the Bill.
Threat of legal action
- Following a threat of legal action by CHEM Trust, the UK Government stated that they will not ‘undermine public participation and stakeholder involvement‘ in post-Brexit chemicals plans. We also challenged government plans to remove key protections against endocrine disrupting chemicals in its pesticides plans, which the Government has since U-turned on.
- This legal case featured in an intervention to the Supreme Court Hearing that found the prorogation of parliament by government to be unlawful.
Other news and activities
- We collaborated with the EU Chemical Industry trade association CEFIC, the EEB and the UK Chemical Industry Association to highlight the benefits of the UK staying in REACH. We also sent a joint letter (published in the Financial Times), and had a video advert in Brussels Schuman metro station (next to the EU Commission and Council), and adverts in Politico Europe.
- You can read all of our blogs related to chemicals and Brexit here.
- Free newsletter: CHEM Trust are also sponsoring a free “Brexit Watch’ weekly newsletter looking at the level playing field & Brexit, see it here.
Why is Brexit a threat to UK chemical protections?
People and wildlife in the UK are currently protected from harmful chemicals by the most sophisticated regulation system in the world – the EU ‘s chemical regulation, REACH, administered by the European Chemicals Agency ECHA in Helsinki.
On 22nd June 2016 the UK voted in a referendum to leave the EU. The process of leaving the EU – Brexit – has presented many risks for environmental and other regulation in the UK.
In CHEM Trust’s view the UK should aim to stay as close as possible to REACH, for example including it in any Free Trade Agreement negotiated with the rest of the EU. We have stark concerns about the UK Government’s plans for a new UK chemical agency that is very unlikely to provide the same level of protection of public and the environment.
We also consider that there are real benefits to the EU27 of the UK remaining part of REACH.
Conditions for remaining in REACH
In order to seek participation in ECHA, CHEM Trust expects that the EU will set three conditions for the UK to participate in REACH:
- The UK would need to fully follow all decisions on chemicals in REACH, without a vote on these decisions, but with the opportunity to be involved in the discussions (as Norway is);
- The UK would need to accept the supervision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), or something very similar, like the European Free Trade Area (Efta) court, which EEA countries like Norway use
- The UK would have to continue to implement and follow a number of other chemical-related EU laws, such as those on factory pollution (e.g. the Industrial Emissions Directive), water pollution (water framework directive) and worker health.
Beyond these conditions the EU may also have concerns about the UK ‘cherry picking’ parts of the internal market, but in our view there are key advantages for the EU of the UK remaining in REACH – see the “Can the UK stay in REACH?” presentation for details.
Our earlier contributions include:
- Quarterly analysis of the risks posed by Brexit risks for UK chemicals regulation in the Greener UK Brexit Risk Tracker.
- A comment piece, “Outside of REACH the UK risks regulatory divergence“, by Kate Young in ChemicalWatch, August 2019.
- We presented the benefits to the EU27 of the UK remaining part of REACH to the EU’s Economic and Social Committee in January 2018.
- We sent a letter co-signed by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) to EU Commissioners regarding the negotiations on the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU chemicals regulation REACH.
- CHEM Trust Executive Director Dr Michael Warhurst gave a keynote presentation, “Can the UK stay in REACH?“, at a Chemical Watch conference on “Post Brexit options for UK chemicals law” in April 2018. Chemical Watch have reported on the conference, including this talk.
- Working with SumOfUs to find out what the public think about Brexit & chemicals policy – see our blog “What is the will of the UK people on hazardous chemicals?“.
- Giving written and oral evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee of the UK House of Commons inquiry on “The Future of Chemicals Regulation after the EU Referendum” in the first half of 2017. See also our blog commenting on the release of their report.
You can read all our talks and comment pieces here.