Professor Richard Macrory, co-chair of the UKELA Brexit Task Force, says:
“The EU REACH system is one of the most important but complex areas of EU environmental law. It cannot easily be rolled-over into national law after Brexit, and there is a danger that the benefits it has brought to the environment and industry will be jeopardised. The EAC report makes clear the significance and complexity of the future regulation of chemicals post Brexit and emphasises the need for the Government to engage urgently with all stakeholders to develop a coherent approach which it can take into negotiations to avoid a significant loss of leverage for the UK chemicals sector in the European Market”
In its White Paper on the Great Repeal Bill published in March, the Government stated that “The Great Repeal Bill will ensure that the whole body of existing EU environmental law continues to have effect in UK law.” The Audit Committee agreed with UKELA’s view that because of the way REACH operates and the terminology used in the Regulation allowing REACH-style provisions to continue to apply this could not sensibly be done by having a line in the Great Repeal Bill deeming REACH to apply in the UK. REACH was written from the perspective of participants being within the EU, with much of it also relating to Member State co-operation and mutual obligations, oversight and controls, and freedom of movement of products.
We welcome the Committee’s recognition that companies face significant uncertainty over the validity of current REACH registrations after the UK leaves the EU, and its call for the Government to clarify their position on the future regulatory framework as a matter of urgency. UKELA said in its written submissions that:
“The extent to which a UK system could, at least in a transitional period while it builds up capacity, make use of the EU REACH system post exit would be subject to any agreements that could be negotiated with the EU but with political and budgetary ramifications for both sides. But it raises a large number of practical questions which would have to addressed”.
The Brexit Task Force also welcomes the Committee’s call for the Government to take a pragmatic approach to the future of the UK's relationship with the EU's single market for chemicals. UKELA noted that while post-Brexit the UK Government will lose a number of significant legal rights under REACH it would be sensible for the Government to seek equivalent rights to EEA States to participate in the various institutions established under REACH, though without voting rights. We also noted practical problems in relation to joint registration of substances by UK and EU countries, particularly in relation to cost.
Establishing a stand-alone UK system of chemicals regulation is likely to be expensive for both the taxpayer and for industry. UKELA said to the Committee that:
“[i]f not properly managed, a new national regime has the potential to create large-scale excessive cost, duplication and confusion for industry and potentially making the environmental purposes of the regime more difficult to meet”.
UKELA also noted in its evidence that there are number of important international conventions concerning chemicals which the EU and the UK have ratified. The Environmental Audit Committee does not directly address this issue. UK will continue to be bound by international law after Brexit, and these conventions will need to be taken into account in the development of any national chemicals system. The Brexit Task Force is currently carrying out a detailed analysis of international environmental conventions and their implications for the UK post-Brexit.
UKELA aims to ensure that the Government (as well as devolved administrations and regulators) are aware of the immense body of legal expertise within UKELA that may be employed to assist with the next steps. The role of the Brexit Task Force is to help UKELA take full advantage of opportunities to engage with Government and other organisations in contributing to any resettlement of the UK’s environmental laws which arises as a result of Brexit.
UKELA has submitted evidence to several Parliamentary Committee Inquiries on Brexit which can be found on the UKELA Brexit page.
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