MPs have called for the UK government to provide clarity to the chemicals industry over the future of chemicals regulations, warning that the uncertainty is leading many to consider moving jobs and investment abroad.
The Environmental Audit Committee, reporting the findings of its enquiry into the effects of Brexit on chemicals regulation, has reported that UK companies have spent an estimated £250m (US$323m) to comply with the EU’s REACH regulations. However, with no guarantees that the registrations they have made will remain valid after the UK leaves the EU, one in five companies represented by the Chemical Business Association are reported to be investigating registering elsewhere in the EU. This could cost the UK jobs and future investment, the committee warns.
'It is disappointing the government have not provided the certainty that UK businesses urgently need on their plans for the future chemical regulation in the UK,” said Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee. “The timing of Brexit means that companies face significant costs to comply with EU regulations before we leave, with no guarantee that that investment will be useful to them in the future.”
The committee warned that the lack of clarity extends to plans for a future chemicals framework in the UK, noting that the government has admitted that it will be difficult to transpose regulations such as REACH into UK law, yet it has not yet offered a vision for the replacement.
“The government needs to ensure it understands the complexity and importance of current regulations in enabling the UK chemicals industry to provide not only value to the economy but their expertise and high standards in protecting public health and the environment,' Creagh added.
A key finding from the inquiry is that most respondents from both environmental and industry perspectives want to stay as closely aligned to REACH as possible. Maintaining their involvement in chemicals registration would allow UK companies to share testing data with EU companies, sharing costs and allowing them to enter the market without double registration, even if the UK adopts higher standards of chemicals protection.
Reacting to this support for staying within REACH, environmental charity CHEM Trust noted that while the regulations are not perfect they are the best in the world.
“Any attempt to create a new UK system would be both much more expensive and much less effective than REACH, threatening the protection of people and the environment,” said CHEM Trust director Michael Warhurst.
“However, CHEM Trust is disappointed that the Committee does not say more about the option that we view as the most realistic way of keeping an effective regulatory system, which is that the UK asks to remain fully part of the REACH system in a future Free Trade Agreement with the EU. There are strong indications that the EU27 would be receptive to such an approach, with both the EU parliament and the EU27 governments having stated the importance of the UK continuing to match EU environmental standards.”
Simon Marsh, employment and communications director at the Chemicals Industry Association (CIA), welcomed the report, noting its key findings align with evidence the group gave over the need for government to provide clarity on chemicals regulations before the UK leaves the EU.
“Reassuringly committee members recognise this as a ‘key finding’ in their report along with a number of other messages CIA have been voicing to both government departments and within parliament in recent months, stressing the need for trade continuity immediately after the UK’s exit and that regulation does not become a barrier to movement of goods from the UK.
Susanne Baker, head of the environment and compliance programme at techUK who wrote last month about the challenges surrounding REACH and Brexit, said: “Government needs to heed the report’s central message that it needs to clarify its position on future chemical regulation [and] engage with stakeholders as a matter of urgency.”
Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.