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UK post-Brexit chemicals IT system could be 'ready tomorrow'

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The UK's IT capability to enable the registration and regulation of chemical substances placed on the national market after Brexit, is mostly built and "would work" tomorrow if needed, the Health and Safety Executive has said.

The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs is constructing the system with HSE input. Earlier this year, MPs said the UK’s chemicals industry could be at "substantial risk" if Defra is unable to properly update its IT systems before the UK leaves the EU.

But at a HSE workshop in Liverpool last week, Dave Bench, the executive's director of EU Exit – Chemicals, said "even if we do nothing else with it between now and March it would work".

The workshop was organised as part of HSE's ongoing contingency planning. Others are likely to take place as the negotiations progress in the coming months.

The event, which was swiftly organised after the government gave permission for it to go ahead, aimed to give the almost 120 stakeholders present an overview of the current state of preparations and seek their input on the way forward.

"We would be able to run a registration system," Mr Bench said. "Certainly we are seeking to refine it and make it more user-friendly just in case we need to use it. But the level of resource required is not enormous and is certainly comfortably handleable over the time period we are talking about."

The system has become a key part of the debate on future chemicals regulations. At a House of Lords select committee on 18 July, Defra's deputy director of EU environment, Gabrielle Edwards, said the department is trying to build a system that will "replicate what the Echa system does" as far as possible.

Some of the fuller functionality that is not required necessarily on day one would come on board on a "slightly slower" time scale, Ms Edwards added. "The critical thing for day one is to have that registration function in place."

Preparation

The HSE is currently the UK's lead authority for the biocides, CLP and prior informed consent (Pic) Regulations. If negotiations with Brussels fail, and Britain leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 without an agreement, the agency would take on most of the responsibilities currently carried out by Echa. These include REACH and parts of the plant protection products Regulations.

Speaking at the House of Lords select committee, junior environment minister Thérèse Coffey said Defra is working on drafts of statutory instruments that would transfer the "responsibilities and operability" of Echa to a UK agency in the event of a no-deal Brexit scenario.

Mr Bench told workshop delegates that even if things do get "bumpy" next year, chemical regulation will not stop, "it just might not look as slick as it currently does".

Most of the chemicals-related preparation work has, the workshop learned, been divided between the HSE and Defra along the lines:

  • HSE – CLP, Pic, BPR and the PPP (fees and charges); and
  • Defra – REACH, PPP, pesticide maximum residue levels, detergents, POPs and mercury.

For now, the aim is to ensure that the chemicals regulation division of the HSE is fully operational, and the central IT system is working well enough from day one to allow it to carry out its functions as regulator if a no-deal scenario prevails.

On running the day based on a no-deal outcome, Mr Bench told Chemical Watch that it is the easiest scenario to think about. This is "because it's easier to make the assumptions about what that might mean, but clearly that's not the government's preference. The preference is to have a deal."

In keeping with that, technical notices on contingency preparations for a no-deal for a number of industrial sectors, including chemicals, are due to be released later in August or September, the workshop heard.

Luke Buxton and Nick Hazlewood

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