The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee have expressed concern after hearing from Minister Thérèse Coffey MP about what Brexit means for chemical regulation in the UK.
The EU's regulatory regime for chemicals is known as REACH. REACH protects human health and the environment from the use of chemicals and facilitates the trade of chemicals throughout the EU, and is managed by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).
The Government's white paper on The Future Relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union stated that they would be seeking to participate in ECHA after Brexit. However ECHA itself has stated that, in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, "British participation [in ECHA] will come to an end" after it leaves the EU.
The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee held a roundtable on REACH and Brexit with a number of experts in June 2018, and followed this with an evidence session with the Minister in July. Links to both sessions are available above.
Minister Thérèse Coffey MP was unable to say when the Government will confirm whether the UK will remain part of REACH post-Brexit, leaving industry uncertain as to what steps it needs to take to be able to maintain trade in chemicals with the EU.
Without securing agreement to be an associate member of ECHA (a status that does not currently exist), the UK would need to create its own system for regulating the use of chemicals. The Minister revealed that it was a matter for negotiation whether the UK would be able to capture data on chemicals that have already been registered under REACH for use in a UK-equivalent database and that, if the UK cannot capture that information, the Government is considering whether to automatically accept existing chemicals that have been approved in other markets, without the associated data on their safety.
The Minister acknowledged that a 'no deal' scenario would be "a massive issue" for some companies, which would face the additional costs and regulatory burdens of having to register chemicals in two different systems, but argued that the impact would vary depending on what action companies are taking to prepare for a range of Brexit scenarios.
She was also unable to allay the Committee's concerns that leaving the EU system of chemical regulation could lead to an increase in animal testing, simply stating "We would have to undertake a regulatory approach, and if that required animal testing that would require animal testing".
Lord Teverson, Chair of the Sub-Committee, said
"Not only is the chemicals sector the UK's second biggest manufacturing industry, with an annual turnover of £32bn, but it also provides substances that go into products we all use every day. It's vital for both human and environmental health that these substances are managed safely after Brexit, and in a way that allows chemical trade between the UK and EU to continue: but the Minister's evidence makes it clear that if the Government can't secure its desired associate membership of the European Chemicals Agency – and signals haven't been encouraging on that front thus far – the UK is entirely unprepared to regulate chemicals independently post-Brexit. She is expecting industry to prepare for a potential departure from REACH, but hasn't started equipping a UK body to do the same. Given the potential cliff edge facing the industry, this simply isn't good enough."
The Sub-Committee is considering what further action it wishes to take on this issue.
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