MPs scrutinise post-EU chemical controls

Chemicals regulation is essential to UK firms and must remain in some form after Brexit, according to witnesses appearing before a cross-party group of MPs.

The parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee is examining the future of chemicals regulation once the UK leaves the EU. REACH, the main EU regulation governing chemicals, has come under particular scrutiny because it is not possible to transfer it directly through the government’s planned Great Repeal Bill.

The regulation is reliant on governance at EU level, where a specialist agency with a large, continuously updated database of chemicals has been established. Chemicals is the second biggest manufacturing sector in the UK and exports 55% of its products to the EU, according to the environment department.

Michael Warhurst, executive director of campaign group CHEM Trust, pointed out that, as REACH also applied to countries in the European Economic Area, a similar free-trade agreement with EU could see the regulation continue to apply in the UK. Such an arrangement would place the UK in a similar position to Norway, which can participate in REACH but not vote on decisions relating to the regulation, he said.

However, the Chemicals Industry Association (CIA) said it did not believe this model was feasible because the government plans to leave the single market. Its policy director Nishma Patel told MPs the chemicals industry would also want to continue to have a say over regulation.

Patel said the CIA was considering the feasibility of a system of mutual recognition between systems in the UK and EU. ‘For example, if we take the first pillar of REACH, the registration, the data requirements to submit a registration dossier would essentially be very similar or identical. It would mean one registration would cover you for UK and EU manufacturing and supply because many of our companies are not only based in the UK but have counterparts in Europe.’

If the EU decides to ban or restrict a specific substance, the UK may decide to follow suit if it was in the national interest or take its own approach if it was not, Patel said. Similarly, if the UK wants to ban a substance, the EU could then consider doing the same. ‘That [is] a potential mutual-recognition type of model that could work. Obviously, the detail would [depend] on whether the EU and the UK can agree on that sort of mutual recognition.’

Tech UK, which represents companies in the digital economy, found its members overwhelmingly wanted to keep REACH because it gave them access to the single market. The body wants any national regulation to mirror REACH so that the UK maintains the same list of chemicals that companies have to report on and updates it simultaneously.



Catherine Early is a freelance journalist.

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