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‘Hard’ Brexit could signal end of REACH in UK

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If, on the day the UK leaves the EU, it loses its access to the European single market, it is highly likely that REACH will cease to apply in the country, says consultancy REACHLaw.

Speaking at Chemical Watch’s recent European Enforcement Summit in Brussels, the firm’s head of global compliance, Riku Rinta-Jouppi, said that UK manufacturers’ and importers’ industry bodies are “already lobbying for their members’ REACH rights to be protected in the coming negotiations”, but under such a scenario, “continuation of REACH outside the scope of EU law is hardly possible”.

A consequence is that any REACH registrations, provided by UK legal entities on the day Brexit takes effect, would become void.

“The problem is that the registrations refer directly to Echa and they don’t exist independently of it,” he told the conference. “There was a clear statement by UK prime minister, Theresa May, that EU law will no longer apply in the UK, so I don’t see how these registrations could exist independently of Echa or the EU.”

It might be possible for the UK, and the rest of the EU, to create “some sort of parallel or interim arrangement”, he said, “but it’s very difficult to see how [registrations] could have an independent existence separate from the institution that granted them”.

The issue is top priority for the Chemical Industries Association (CIA). In its recent response to the UK Chemicals Stakeholder Forum consultation on the implications of Brexit for chemicals policy, it said the investment UK businesses have already made in REACH registrations “must be recognised by both UK government and the rest of the EU irrespective of any type of trading agreement that may be established”.

With almost 5,500 registrations, covering around 2,250 substances, coming from UK businesses, it says, “it is essential that the UK government considers this issue ... before the UK exit takes place: to ensure existing REACH registrations do not become invalid, and a process is established to continue recognising contributions made by UK businesses without creating additional financial burden.”

Only “as a last resort”, says the CIA, should the transfer of existing registrations to only representatives elsewhere in the EU, be considered.

Mr Rinta-Jouppi said, while it is clear that UK registrations “will be valid all the way up to the point of Brexit, and it will be possible to make legal entity changes to that point, afterwards the validity and possibility of transfer will be open to question.”

If a UK registrant is a lead registrant, he said, its co-registrants would have to agree on a new lead registrant based in the EU and transfer the role to it, before Brexit comes into force.

“As a single issue,” he told the conference, “it would be in the UK’s long-term interest to find a way to continue with REACH, and with full access to the single market. But this may well be in conflict with its aims to limit immigration and not be subject to EU law. So only a bilateral free trade agreement may be available in practice - and it is quite likely there will be a period [after Brexit] when the UK is trading with the EU under WTO rules.”

The UK government has promised to introduce a “Great Repeal bill” in the next parliamentary session, to repeal the UK European Communities Act and to convert all EU law into UK law. But the CIA says that, as it is unlikely the government will be able to review all individual EU legislation before Brexit takes effect, it could consider the scenario of continuing to apply existing EU “trade exposed” chemical regulations in the UK, until a trade agreement is reached.

Given the political climate in the UK, the CIA’s response sets out the potential pros and cons of two scenarios - without taking a position on either: the first, where the UK maintains EU rules and there is automatic implementation of the legislation in the UK; the second, where a UK-specific framework and policy measures governing chemicals are created.

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