British engineering company Rolls-Royce has asked for improvements to UK REACH legislation, to ensure "appropriate" use of restricted chemicals continues in the event Britain leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March.
The company, which makes engines for aircraft, ships, trains and for other industrial uses, has shared concerns with the government about the effects of a 'no-deal' Brexit on the supply of chemicals for the industry.
"What is of particular interest is the continued downstream use in the UK of substances where an upstream applicant in the EU is awaiting an authorisation decision," a spokesperson told Chemical Watch.
The specific concern relates to UK downstream users like Rolls-Royce that are reliant on applications for authorisations submitted by entities in the EU27 or the European Economic Area (EEA), for which a decision has not been made.
Rolls-Royce is seeking re-authorisations from the European Commission for SVHCs that are already in use, as its existing permissions are set to expire.
If, as expected, the authorisations are not granted by 29 March, the company could become non-compliant in Britain when UK REACH legislation kicks in.
The issue was raised at a parliamentary debate on the draft UK REACH statutory instrument (SI) earlier this week, when MP Norman Lamb said Rolls-Royce had "approximately ten" applications for authorisations awaiting a Commission decision.
These concern various uses of chromates, including chromium trioxide – a carcinogen – in automotive, aerospace and other industries.
The consequences of a legal loophole with regard to authorisation are "potentially disastrous" for the company and many other small and medium-sized enterprises "that probably have no idea about all this complexity", Mr Lamb told Parliament.
MP Mary Creagh warned that limiting use of chromates could lead to "market freeze" for entire supply chains. "In a heavily regulated industry such as aerospace people cannot just switch suppliers from one day to the next," she said.
The government has said it will "grandfather" all existing authorisations granted in the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Companies wanting to continue to export to the trade bloc would need to transfer authorisations to EU27 entities.
However, the draft UK REACH SI, published in January, does not make any provisions to grandfather 'pending' authorisation applications submitted in the EU that affect UK downstream users.
Junior minister Thérèse Coffey from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) told Parliament that the UK "will not have a position" to allow for future EU authorisation decisions.
The new legislation states that if Echa's committees have given their final opinions on an EU/EEA authorisation application, then the Secretary of State will make the decision once the applicant has submitted the necessary information.
Any downstream users still awaiting final opinions will be required to submit a separate application for UK market authorisation.
Ms Coffey conceded, however, that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the designated UK REACH authority, "will work with companies to help them to get into compliance as soon as possible".
It is understood that Defra has been in discussions with Rolls-Royce.
Echa 'not concerned'
Matti Vainio, Echa’s head of risk management, said the agency was "not directly concerned" about UK downstream users like Rolls-Royce because they are not selling substances into the EU market that require authorisation. From an EU perspective, there is no market disruption of the use of the authorised substance, he said.
Compliance of downstream companies in the UK with regard to EU authorisations that are pending is a "completely sovereign decision of the UK", he told Chemical Watch.
The agency says 12 downstream companies based in the UK have submitted authorisation applications in the EU so far. Eight have been granted while the others await a decision.
Echa has also identified six upstream companies in the UK – manufacturers and importers of substances or only representatives – now contemplating transferring their authorisation applications to EU27 entities. Two others have already done so.