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Brexit & Chemicals

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.

Source: Rlevente, Wikimedia

On 22nd June 2016 the UK voted in a referendum to leave the EU. The process of leaving the EU – Brexit – presents 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 consider that any new regulatory system would be expensive to create and would be 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.

It is vital that a post-Brexit Britain continues to have an effective system to protect people and the environment from hazardous chemicals, such as those that can accumulate in our bodies or disrupt our hormones.

What might the conditions be?

In order to seek participation in ECHA, CHEM Trust expects that the EU will set three conditions for the UK to participate in REACH:

  1. 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);
  2. 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
  3. 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.

Latest news:

  • Following on from a threat of legal action by CHEM Trust, the UK Government have stated that they will not ‘undermine’ public participation and stakeholder involvement in chemical laws post-Brexit.
  • The draft ‘Political Declaration’ on a future relationship, published on Thursday 22nd November includes positive text on the UK & ECHA; see our blog for details.
  • We analysed the data from the EU’s rapid alert system for hazardous products, RAPEX, to show that the UK is currently dependent on other EU member states to ensure products on the UK market is safe from hazardous chemicals. See our blog and briefing.
  • We sent a letter co-signed by the European Environmental Bureau to EU Comissioners regarding the negotiations on the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU chemicals regulation REACH.
  • We have been collaborating with the EU Chemical Industry trade association CEFIC, the European Environmental Bureau and the UK Chemical Industry Association to highlight the benefits of the UK staying in REACH. In October we published a joint letter (which was published in the Financial Times on 16th October 2018), had a video advert in Schuman metro station in Brussels (next to the European Commission and Council), and various adverts in Politico Europe.
  • In September we produced a briefing on the benefits to the EU27 of the UK remaining part of the EU’s world-leading chemicals law REACH.
  • The UK Government published a White Paper on Brexit on 12th July 2018 – our blog examines what it says about REACH and ECHA, and what more we think the UK will have to do to stay in 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” on April 17th 2018. Chemical Watch have reported on the conference, including this talk.

Our earlier contributions include:

You can read all our blogs related to chemicals and Brexit here.