February 11, 2019 by David Taylor

Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum: 5th February 2019

Part of a series of half day seminars this one was attended by 87 delegates. After a keynote address by Steve Elliot, Chief Executive of the Chemical Industries Association there were two discussion sessions. The first on future priorities for the UK Chemicals Sector and secondly key issues for the post BREXIT regulation of chemicals. These two discussion sessions were chaired by Angela Smith MP, a member of the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and Julie Girling MEP, a member of the EP Environment Committee. The seminar concluded with an update from DEFRA and HSE on the implications of BREXIT for chemicals regulation in the UK.

There is of course considerable uncertainty about the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. However, several clear messages emerged from the seminar.

It clearly remains the view of the Chemical Industry, represented by Trade Associations in the UK and the EU27 and supported by green NGOs, that the UK should remain within the REACH regulatory system or, if that is not possible, it should remain in dynamic regulatory alignment with it. The Political Appendix that is appended to the Withdrawal Agreement does suggest that some sort of association agreement with the ECHA could be discussed, but there is no certainty about a successful outcome. However, Simon Tilling, from the legal firm Burgess Salmon, made it very clear that regulatory divergence between REACH and UK REACH would be inevitable due to the differences in interpretation of science information, political decision making and legal judgements that would occur.

Leaving the EU on 29th March 2019, without a formal agreement would be very damaging to the chemical industry both in the UK and the remaining EU27. Chemicals are a vital part of the UK Economy and heavily integrated with the EU27, 60% of chemicals exported from the UK go to the EU and 75% of chemical imports come from the EU. The UK Chemical industry has provided 25% of REACH registrations at a cost of £500m and the cost of duplicating this for the UK REACH Regulation will be very expensive and time consuming and the general opinion is that the Government has failed to understand the magnitude of the issue. There is also considerable scepticism that the UK REACH IT system will function effectively to cope with the demand. The overnight conversion of thousands of existing end users into ‘importers’ is also going to present a very large problem. Despite reassurances from HSE and DEFRA there continue to be concerns about the proposed legislation¹ to transfer EU REACH Regulation into UK law. Provisions for stakeholder involvement in decision making are inadequate and there is a lack of commitment to maintain alignment with the EU REACH Regulations.

Dave Bench (HSE) and James Dancy (DEFRA) sought to reassure the participants. DEFRA and HSE staff have been working jointly since 2016, planning for all possible outcomes including the possibility of ‘No deal’ and the target of no disruption & no significant change to law relating to chemical management at the point of transition (either 29th March 2019 or 2021) is expected to be met. The aim of the Government is that the future UK chemical strategy would retain close alignment with REACH. The immediate ‘no deal’ strategy, if it is implemented, should be considered only as the starting point of the new UK Chemicals Strategy.

There was a degree of optimism expressed about the future of the UK outside the European Union. Professor Jason Snape from AstraZeneca expressed confidence about the prospects of the UK Pharma sector. He considered that the UK had the capacity to spearhead the drive for sustainability, with its leadership in ‘green chemistry’ and its ability to manage ‘big data’ although future innovation must be judged on risk & socioeconomics and must be evaluated across the whole life cycle. Similarly, Janet Williams, Bayer Crop Science, saw significant improvements to the regulation of Plant Protection Products (PPP) post BREXIT. Currently the approval of PPP in EU is the slowest in the world, costs in excess of £250m/compound and takes 10+ years. In addition, there is evidence that the EU regulatory process has been politicized leading to the EU severely lagging in agricultural sustainability. BREXIT provides an opportunity for UK to develop a modern science-based approval process. Several contributors felt that the UK would be able to make a major contribution to the emerging globalisation of chemical regulation.

¹ The REACH etc. (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

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