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What is the will of the UK people on hazardous chemicals?

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of British citizens – including 62% of Leave voters – believe that there should be no reduction in regulatory standards that protect people and the environment from potentially harmful chemicals when the UK leaves the EU, according to a new poll conducted on behalf of SumOfUs and CHEM Trust by GQR Research.

As Brexit negotiations continue amid debates within the Cabinet over whether the UK should maintain EU regulatory standards or adopt a low-regulation landscape to attract business, it is clear that the the British public, whether they voted leave or remain, want to maintain current protections from potentially harmful chemicals.

The EU chemical regulation REACH & Brexit

Britain is currently a member of the EU’s REACH system, which aims to ensure that all substances used and sold throughout the EU are safe for people and the environment. It covers chemicals contained in thousands of everyday products, from furniture to till receipts to detergents. As with all EU level regulations, whether UK citizens will continue to be protected by the world’s most comprehensive chemicals regulation system is currently in doubt.

The narrative of the minister in charge of chemicals, Thérèse Coffey, is that the UK should not stay within REACH as she believes this would jeopardise parliamentary sovereignty and the supremacy of the UK courts (see CHEM Trust’s contribution to the Brexit Risk Tracker of Greener UK).

The UK public want to keep EU chemical safety standards after Brexit

However, a new survey shows that the vote for Brexit was not a vote to lower UK standards of protection on chemicals. The survey, which gathered the responses of 1203 people representative of the British population, reveals that 84% of Remain and 83% of Leave voters support a strong regulation of chemicals – that chemicals identified as hazardous should be substituted where possible with safer alternatives (rather than the alternative response that companies may use any substance deemed to have low or manageable risk).

CHEM Trust Executive Director Dr Michael Warhurst said:

“This survey shows that the public – whether Remain or Leave voters – do not want any reduction in the regulations that protect people and the environment from potentially harmful  chemicals after Brexit. The only way to be sure of achieving this objective for the UK to stay in the EU’s chemicals regulatory system REACH after Brexit – and it is possible for the UK to be in REACH but not in the EU, as Norway is.”

The results come on the eve of a major conference on chemicals regulation post-brexit, organised by Chemical Watch. The conference, on Friday 29th September in London, brings together experts from industry, governments and NGOs to examine the implications of Brexit in terms of UK/EU trade and environmental protection, current models of cooperation with the EU and possible options for UK chemicals law after Brexit.

For all our blogs on this issue, click here, and more details are available on our Brexit & Chemicals web page.

GQR conducted the nationally representative online poll of Great Britain between 11 and 13 September. The total sample was 1,203 adults aged 18 and over; data was weighted to the national profile by gender, age, region, ethnicity and social grade. Data tables are here.