UK must remain within REACH as it exits EU

Article by Adam Duckett

ICHEME has backed calls for the UK to remain within the EU’s chemicals regulation (REACH) despite leaving the EU. Failing to do so will harm industry, the economy, public health, the environment and animal welfare.

IChemE has co-signed a briefing paper sent to UK lawmakers who are debating the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Written by the Environmental Policy Forum (EPF), a network of bodies representing 70,000 environmental professionals, the paper urges lawmakers to secure a binding commitment from the government that the UK remains part of the European Chemical Agency.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May said last week that she wanted to explore with the EU the option of the UK remaining part of EU agencies that are critical for industry, directly referencing the chemicals sector and the European Chemicals Agency. 


Will Pope, chair of the Environmental Policy Forum, warned in a letter sent to UK lawmakers of the consequences of the UK failing to agree to stay within the EU chemical regime (REACH) and having to create an equivalent system.

“A separate system – a British REACH (‘BREACH’) – without access to the existing database of chemical safety information would be very expensive to establish and operate both for government and for the chemical industry,” Pope said.

“Not only would the need to generate repeat safety information be expensive, it could also require significant duplication of animal testing, with the associated impact on animal welfare. The UK would also lose access to the combined scientific expertise in the EU Member States, as well as losing influence on future scientific and policy development in this area.”

In turn, a separate system would lead to barriers to trade in chemicals and pharmaceuticals, harming sectors that account for 10% of manufacturing and are the UK’s largest exporters. There could be delays and blockages in cross-border supply chains as chemicals and the components they make can cross the UK-EU border several times as they are processed and assembled.

“The importance of remaining in REACH is not just a UK/EU issue; across the world, manufacturers exporting into the EU are bound by REACH – it has become a global standard setter. It also ensures the safe management of these chemicals when products and materials are recycled or disposed of at end-of-life. Remaining in REACH is, therefore, critical for future UK trade and for the protection of the UK economy, our public health, the environment and animal welfare.”

Echoes of the CIA

The letter was signed on behalf of IChemE by Geoffrey Maitland, chair of the Institution’s Brexit Working Group. It echoes calls made by industry group the UK Chemicals Industry Association (CIA) in its report published last month on Making Brexit work for the Chemical Industry.

“The CIA team of member companies’ experts believes it would be better for the UK to fully remain within REACH…rather than setting up (or expanding) separate institutions in the UK, which could be costly for the UK taxpayer and the chemical industry itself,” said the report. It acknowledged that while REACH is not perfect, the regulation is essential for enabling UK industry to continue to trade efficiently across borders.

CIA CEO Steve Elliott welcomed the Prime Minister’s desire for the UK to become an associate member of the European Chemical Agency, saying it acknowledges the chemical industry’s long-standing call for regulatory consistency in leaving the EU.

“Although the proposal…needs further definition, we would urge the UK and EU negotiating partners and all of the European chemical industry to respond positively to this initiative, keeping in mind the desired aim of minimal disruption to EU chemicals trade and investment as an outcome from Brexit. More specifically, Theresa May’s commitment to enabling the continued involvement of UK officials and their related technical expertise in the workings of REACH is something that I believe would be welcomed by our European partners. Her aim of avoiding duplicate testing and related costs under REACH would also help protect a decade’s worth of investment in REACH by chemical businesses in the UK,” said Elliott.

EU will make demands

The Prime Minister’s proposal to remain in REACH was received less warmly by Michael Warhurst, executive director of chemicals advocacy group CHEM Trust. He said it is “very clear” that the EU will not let the UK be part of REACH without some important conditions as happened when Switzerland tried to join REACH.

These conditions would include the UK having to fully follow EU decision on chemicals – its rules would have to be identical; and it would have to continue to implement and follow EU decisions on other chemical-related laws, such as industrial emissions directive and worker health.

The EU will not give the UK associated membership of the European Chemicals Agency without clear legal commitment to follow EU laws, Warhurst said.

“The idea of gradual divergence is not a runner in this area.”

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

Recent Editions

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.