Environmental Audit Committee welcomes move to give firms more time to register chemicals use with post-Brexit scheme
All eyes may be on the stalled UK-EU negotiations and the prospect of the UK breaching an international treaty it only agreed to at the end of last year, but these are not the only parts of the Brexit process facing significant challenges.
Today, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) of MPs welcomed the government's decision to extend the deadline for registration data to be submitted to the new UK REACH system for managing chemicals use post-Brexit.
The UK REACH is expected to start on 1 January 2021 at the end of the Brexit transition period. It is set to replace the long-running EU REACH scheme, which registers and manages the use of hazardous and potentially harmful chemicals right across the bloc.
The move to set up a parallel UK REACH scheme has faced fierce criticism from business groups and campaigners, who have warned the approach will duplicate the current system creating new administrative burdens for UK firms. Environmental campaigners have also questioned whether the UK scheme will be adequately resourced, given it will not have access to the European Chemicals Agency.
However, the government has insisted its stated goal to exit all EU agencies and the auspices of European courts meant the departure from EU REACH was necessary.
The EAC has previously raised concerns with government that transferring registrations from the EU system to the new UK system is complex, and that many businesses are concerned that the timeframe to collate and submit data is too short. Many businesses in the UK chemicals industry do not own the full data package necessary for registering on the new system, with some of the data owned by third parties in the EU.
As such, the government moved last week to extend the initial deadlines for registering information with the new scheme.
The initial notification stage for downstream users has been extended from 180 to 300 days after 1 January 2021, in a move Ministers hope will reduce the number of downstream users needing to notify as more of their suppliers will have been able to complete registrations.
Moreover, the full registration deadline, supported by a full data package, has now been extended to two, four, and six years, subject to the level of hazard risk and tonnage for given chemicals, from the end of the initial 300 day period.
"The government has listened to feedback from stakeholders, businesses and my Committee and I welcome their efforts to ease the transition for the chemicals industry," said EAC chair, Philip Dunne MP. "I hope the revised timetable to register on the new UK REACH system offers the chemicals industry some reassurance and breathing room to collate the necessary data from EU partners."
However, he also stressed the EAC would continue to monitor the roll out of the new REACH regime. "Our chemicals industry is a major employer in the UK, supporting local economies and it routinely features in the top tier of chemicals industries around the world," he said. "We need a strong regulatory regime that ensures the chemicals sector is safe and fit for purpose. My Committee will be continuing to monitor the creation of UK REACH to ensure it supports this sector go from strength to strength."
The deadline extension was also welcomed by the Chemicals Industries Association, which had been calling for an extension for months.
"Whilst not avoiding a separate registration scheme and future replication of registrations in the UK, we believe the proposed timeline will support businesses in better managing the future registration process in the UK and minimise disruption to supply chains," said Nishma Patel, policy director at the Chemical Industries Association. "With the newly suggested phased approach to registration, companies will be in the position to spread costs and resources over a longer period of time compared to the 2-years initially planned."
However, she also stressed that without the promised trade deal between the UK and EU the industry would face massive disruption. "While we welcome the [deadline extension], there needs to be a deal between the UK and EU on a future relationship that will include close cooperation and an agreement on chemical data," she said.
Her comments echo those of environmental campaigners, who responded to reports the UK could be heading for a no deal exit from the EU by again warning that such a move would be "disastrous" for the green economy and could trigger a dilution of UK environmental standards - a charge Ministers have repeatedly rejected.
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