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UK Government White Paper on Brexit includes a wish to stay in EU chemicals law, but are its commitments enough?

The UK Government today published a White Paper spelling out its Brexit strategy and  CHEM Trust welcomes its reaffirmation that the UK will be seeking ‘active’ participation in the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the linked REACH chemicals regulatory system.

The UK Government’s proposals address two of the three preconditions that we believe will be necessary for the UK to have a chance of staying in REACH, however we are very concerned that the third precondition, staying within the EU’s chemical-related laws, is missing.

These other laws, for example covering water pollution, factory emissions and health and safety, are crucial to safe management of chemicals, and CHEM Trust’s view is the the EU will not accept the UK’s request to stay in ECHA without them.

As we have written about previously, in order to seek participation in ECHA, CHEM Trust expects that the EU will set three conditions for the UK to participate in REACH:

  1. The UK would need to fully follow all decisions on chemicals in REACH, without a vote on these decisions, but with the opportunity to be involved in the discussions (as Norway is);
  2. The UK would need to accept the supervision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), or something very similar, like the European Free Trade Area (Efta) court, which EEA countries like Norway use
  3. The UK would have to continue to implement and follow a number of other chemical-related EU laws, such as those on factory pollution (e.g. the Industrial Emissions Directive), water pollution (water framework directive) and worker health.

Whilst the Government’s Paper meets two of these conditions– that the UK would forfeit its voting rights (1) and continue to respect the remit of the European Court of Justice (2), it falls far short of the third.

There is no mention of the laws on chemical pollution and health and safety in the White Paper, and a separate section on the EU’s energy market includes an explicit dismissal of the UK participating in EU environmental rules: “the UK does not believe that participation in the [EU Internal Energy Market] should require a common rulebook on wider environmental and climate change rules”.

The Government’s commitment to the ‘non-regression of environmental standards’ is too weak to fulfil this condition and offers no assurance that the UK will continue to advance its environmental and health protection laws alongside the EU.

What will be the EU 27’s view?

It’s worth noting that even if the UK does fulfil all three of the requirements above, there is a risk that the EU27 could view the attempt by the UK to stay in REACH as ‘cherry picking’ the EU single market. However, as we have laid out previously, in our view there are strong benefits to the EU27 of the UK staying in REACH.

Conclusions

Michael Warhurst, Executive Director of CHEM Trust, said

“CHEM Trust welcomes the importance that the UK Government is giving to staying in the EU’s world-leading REACH chemicals laws. However, we are very worried that the Government has not backed this up with a clear commitment to stay in the EU’s other chemical-related laws, for example on factory pollution and water quality.

These linked laws are essential for proper protection of human health and the environment from chemicals, and we expect the EU27 will require the UK to adhere to them in order for the UK to have any chance of remaining within REACH.

For the EU27, permitting the UK to participate in REACH – as long as the UK follows all the rules – should not be viewed as ‘cherry picking’ as it will help ensure a high standard of protection for human health and the environment, and prevent the UK undercutting EU regulations.”

  • In another worrying development this week, Unearthed managed to get hold of a copy of a  joint UK-India trade review, which included calls from Indian companies for the UK to relax EU rules on chemical safety, as part of a potential future UK-India trade agreement.
  • This blog has been quoted in ENDS Europe.