UK Prime Minister Theresa May has published the Great Repeal Bill, which will repeal the European Communities Act of 1972 and replace all relevant EU laws with identical British laws. While the bill means that the laws of the European Union will no longer directly affect the UK, it is also expected to preserve EU chemical regulations in the UK after Great Britain leaves the European Union.
The British Chemicals Industry Association expressed relief at the end of the uncertainty caused by BREXIT’s possible implications for UK chemical regulations. The Great Repeal Bill was announced last year, and at that time was understood to keep the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) Regulation as established by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).
However, the bill specifies that the regulations in force on the day Britain leaves the UK will be the law of the land. Changes in EU regulations, including case law, will not affect Great Britain’s laws going forward.
This factor means that, like UK English and US English, the two systems could change differently over time and end up being significantly different in the long run. Great Britain may eventually have a REACH-like chemical regulations system, as do Turkey, Korea, and a number of other nations.
This could affect companies that trade in the UK and in the EU. If meeting EU requirements allows these companies to trade in the UK as well, compliance will be simple. Additional requirements for the UK, or different kinds of dossiers, could make things more complicated.
British companies will be able to meet EU requirements as well as their local requirements at first, but changes in British chemical regulations over time could mean that they will have to meet two sets of requirements, even if Britain continues to benefit from free trade with the EU.
Some companies have already said that a choice between two sets of regulations could drive them out of the UK. Britain could try to make sure that their national chemical regulations continue to match REACH, but some experts question whether this is realistic once the UK no longer maintains involvement with ECHA.
Data sharing could also be an issue. If ECHA decides not to accept UK registrations and instead requires EU-based Only Representatives, it may be harder for UK suppliers to compete with EU vendors.
Data sharing has become an issue in some other countries using REACH-like regulations. At least Great Britain will not face language-based challenges such as those coming up in Turkey.
If UK lead registrants are importing substances into the EU, though, there may be a scramble to update or re-register substances after Britain leaves the EU. And SIEF agreements which share data only for REACH could be interpreted as applicable only to dossiers registered for EU REACH, not for a UK REACH-like law.
In some ways, the assurance that the UK will still be under REACH on the day BREXIT takes place gives certainty to chemical companies and UK importers and manufacturers of articles using relevant substances. In other ways, it just kicks the can down the road.
UK companies may need to negotiate some flexibility with co-registrants in their SIEFs. Or the UK may be able to negotiate some support in their Withdrawal Agreement. Either way, it’s likely that the REACH 2018 deadline will not be the final act for chemical companies located in or trading with the UK.