The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee has expressed concern after hearing from Minister Thérèse Coffey that leaving EU’s regulatory regime for chemicals (REACH) could be a “massive issue”.
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 has held a roundtable on REACH and Brexit followed with an evidence session with the Minister in July.
Minister Thérèse Coffey 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.
Coffey 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. She said the government is also considering whether to automatically accept existing chemicals that have been approved in other markets, without the associated data on their safety.
She also said 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.
Lord Teverson, chair of the Sub-Committee, said: “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.
“The minister’s evidence makes it clear that if the government can’t secure its desired associate membership of the ECHA – 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.”