Slow progress on ensuring chemical safety post-Brexit, Committee finds

The European Chemicals Agency is one of the key agencies responsible for governing pesticides in the UK
The European Chemicals Agency is one of the key agencies responsible for governing pesticides in the UK

Unless the Government can negotiate continued UK participation in the EU’s chemical regulation system, chemicals registered by UK companies won’t be valid for sale in the EU, according to an influential committee.

The UK will also have incomplete safety information about chemicals being used in the UK after Brexit, the House of Lords Committee concluded.

?The chemicals sector is the UK’s second biggest manufacturing industry, and exported £18 billion of products to the EU last year.

The Lords said it is "vital" for both human and environmental health that these substances are regulated safely after Brexit, in a way that allows chemical trade between the UK and EU to continue.

As part of the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulations, chemicals can’t be sold in the EU unless they are registered by a company or representative based in the EU.

This means UK-based chemical companies risk losing access to the EU market unless they transfer their registrations, but the Committee found that this may not be possible before the UK leaves the EU, creating the risk of a trading hiatus.

Slow progress

Despite the importance of the chemicals sector to the UK’s economy, the Committee concludes that the Government’s preparations for addressing the Brexit challenge are not progressing quickly enough.

This risks human and environmental health, as well as disruption to the many supply chains that rely on access to chemicals produced across the EU.

If the UK cannot secure continued access to REACH, the Committee expresses concern about the Government’s alternative plan to create its own database of chemicals approved for use in the UK.

In evidence given to the Committee the Minister responsible said they planned to simply ‘copy and paste’ information from the EU’s database, which the Committee concludes is not credible and raises serious legal concerns.

Lord Teverson, Chairman of the Committee, said: “Chemical regulation might seem like a niche area of Brexit considerations, but chemicals are used to make products that we all use every day, and the chemical sector is key to the UK’s economy.

“At the moment they’re regulated by REACH, which combines legislation with an EU database, an EU regulator and the EU Single Market to keep us all safe.

Lord Teverson added: “Although we welcome the Government’s aim to remain part of the REACH system after Brexit, its negotiation red line on the UK’s membership of the Single Market makes that highly unlikely.

“That means it urgently needs to be working on a Plan B, and that simply hasn’t happened, which leaves the sector facing a huge cliff-edge on the day we leave the EU,” he said.

The Committee is calling on the Government to:

• Urgently explain how its independent regulatory regime would work;

• Put forward a more credible plan for collecting information on chemicals;

• Identify which UK agency will take on the role of chemical regulation; and

• Enable UK chemical businesses, including SMEs, to take steps to maintain their access to the EU market ahead of exit day.