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UK chemicals forum hears Brexit concerns

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The effects of the UK’s vote to leave the EU was a key issue at this week’s meeting of the UK environment department’s stakeholder group on chemicals policy.

The Chemicals Stakeholder Forum, which includes representatives from government, business and civil society groups, heard that, even though nothing is yet known about the UK government’s negotiating position in its forthcoming Brexit talks with the European Commission, some effects of the vote are already being detected on the ground. 

Some only representatives and consultancies in the UK, for example, are reporting that prospective and existing clients are turning them down because they want to ensure that the company they use is based in the EU.

Sue Bullock of Ramboll Environ UK, which provides OR services, told Chemical Watch that, while it will continue to deliver these from the UK and, as a multinational, can do so from other EU countries, this “will not be so simple for many independent or smaller consultancies in the UK”.

Under existing rules, she said, there is a fee associated with changing OR, and “this may play a part in the decision-making process for firms”.

While she expects a “short-term hiatus” as the dust settles, “clarity is urgently needed to address the implications of Brexit for UK-based consultancies offering OR services and related technical support for REACH and related product regulations, particularly as the preparations for the REACH registration deadline in May 2018 heat up.”

Another issue, the Chemicals Industries Association’s Nishma Patel told the meeting, is that some British lead registrants are facing questions from Sief members, which are asking whether they need replacing with a non-UK company in order to preserve the Sief’s stability.

The environment department (Defra), which is the UK lead ministry for chemicals policy, has made it clear that those UK-based companies affected must register their substances by the 2018 deadline, and that the UK will remain bound by EU law, until the agreement for the country’s withdrawal comes into force.

Beyond that date, companies wanting to trade with the EU should expect to meet REACH standards.

Officials told the forum that the government will create a new EU unit, comprised of officials from various ministries, and that Defra’s top official will represent it on an “EU Exit Board” that will consider the policy issues for affected ministries.

According to a paper on REACH and the referendum decision, which Defra presented to the meeting, the ministry will need the views of stakeholders as a part of the development of options for the management of industrial chemicals in the UK. This, it says, is likely to be part of a wider package it would expect to present to new ministers.

Defra wants to hear, in particular, what stakeholders think the overarching objectives of UK chemicals policy should be, during the Brexit negotiations and beyond; and, in the event of the UK not remaining part of the single market, what should be the scope of the management or regulation of chemicals in the UK?

TechUK’s Susanne Baker, another forum member, said her trade body’s members “do not want to see any weakening of environmental or health and safety standards as a result of Brexit”.

Two thirds of TechUK's members export products and services to the EU, she said, and “it is clear that if we want access to the single market, we will need to ensure our products conform with REACH. 

“The government needs to make clear its intentions as soon as possible, recognising that we want to access the single market, that most manufacturers operate global supply chains and that investment decisions need to be made now, by some companies, to manage the impact of REACH on products and manufacturing processes.”

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