Businesses and environment campaigners are disappointed as the UK leaves the EU chemicals safety regime

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    For the time being, chemicals trade between the EU and UK has been spared WTO tariffs of around 6.5% thanks to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

    However, the deal did not prevent the regulatory divorce.

    This means the UK has now left the EU’s REACH system for regulating chemicals. It can no longer access the EU’s chemical safety database, managed by its agency ECHA, covering some 23,000 substances. The UK is establishing its own chemical safety system, GB REACH. Its chemical safety database will not be fully populated until 2027 (and even then, will have less information in it than the EU’s) and cost industry an estimated 1 billion GBP to make it operational.

    The agreement includes a chemicals annex which establishes a light form of cooperation and exchange of non-confidential information, similar to what is in place between the EU and other third countries.

    Industry and environmental groups are concerned about the negative impacts:

    • Tow Bowtell from British Coatings Federation said this ‘is a hard Brexit’ and expressed ‘serious concerns about the way UK REACH will duplicate the onerous EU REACH’, calling for an urgent review of ‘how UK REACH is going to work’.
    • Marco Mensink from CEFIC expressed his concern about rapid divergence with the new EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, which foresees a revision and strengthening of chemical safety rules.
    • Chloe Alexander from CHEM Trust believes that the result for the UK will be ‘a system that’s weaker and less protective than the EU’s’.

    There is already pressure to continue negotiations for a more comprehensive cooperation on chemicals regulation and allow UK access to safety data.

    Currently, the EU only gives such access to EEA countries, which are aligned with REACH and related chemicals safety rules.

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