UK REACH after Brexit: the new rules looming for chemicals

By Bill Atkinson, Chief Scientific Adviser

It’s time to sit up and take notice of the new legislation looming for chemical supply, and to make sure you comply... Now we’ve left the EU, the UK is going through an interim period covered by the Withdrawal Agreement until the end of 2020, when all EU legislation will then cease to apply – or full ‘Brexit’. This includes the legislation governing chemical supply, which will switch from EU REACH to UK REACH after Brexit, with huge implications for UK-based facilities.

Bill Atkinson, Chief Scientific Adviser, talks us through the key facts…

REACH in brief

Registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals (REACH) applies to chemical substances manufactured or imported into the European Union in quantities of one tonne or more per year. It requires manufacturers, importers or distributors of chemicals to register them with the European Chemicals Agency or ECHA, otherwise they cannot legally be imported, manufactured or supplied.

What will happen after Brexit?

EU REACH will no longer apply to England, Scotland or Wales, and instead the UK Government will implement our own version – UK REACH. Companies in Northern Ireland will still be covered by EU REACH according to the ‘IE/NI Protocol’.

Registration with UK REACH after Brexit is likely to follow closely the process under EU REACH and as such shouldn’t be unfamiliar. However, even as a UK-based storage facility, if you handle chemicals going to or coming from European countries, the products may well have to comply with both the UK and EU versions of REACH.

It is the responsibility of individual companies to assess their operations and decide whether they need to comply with both the UK and EU regimes, or just one.

What action will you need to take?

If you are a UK-based operation supplying only the UK market things should be fairly straightforward. As an importer, only representative or distributor, if you are currently registered under EU REACH, your substances registration will be automatically legally recognised or ‘carried over’ to UK REACH when the transition period ends on 31 December 2020.

You will still need to confirm your existing registration and provide basic information to the HSE by 30 April 2021 using the UK REACH IT system.  The grandfathering process must then be completed within 2, 4 or 6 years of 28 October 2021 depending on tonnage bands. The process will not incur any fee. You’ll then be given a new UK REACH registration number. Safety Data Sheets created under EU REACH will be valid under UK REACH for the time being.

UK classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures (CLP) will also come into force, replacing and replicating EU CLP regulations regarding classification and labelling – although there is no difference between the two schemes as regards product packaging and labelling.

What about importing from the EU post-Brexit?

If you are UK based but procure or provide safe storage for chemicals from EU/EEA-based suppliers, you’ll need to go a little further. It’s vital you ensure the chemicals (over 1 tonne per year) are covered by a valid UK REACH registration, held by one actor within the supply chain. Even though the supplier is based in the EU there must be a UK registration covering the substances as you become the importer.  UK importers must notify the HSE of their intention to continue importing substances from the EU by 27 October 2021, using the UK REACH IT system.  The new registration must then be submitted to the HSE within 2, 4 or 6 years of 28 October 2021.  Alternatively, UK importers can change their source to a UK registered supplier or can encourage their supplier to appoint a UK-based Only Representative.  Note that different rules may apply to re-imported materials too.

And what about exporting to the EU market from January 2021?

If you’re UK based but facilitate supply to the EU market, then after 31 December 2020 you will no longer be able to register substances in the EU. All existing substance registrations will need to have been officially transferred to an EU/EEA-based legal entity. This will not be done automatically but will need to be actioned via the ‘legal entity change’ functionality in the REACH IT system.

Any substances you export after 31 December 2020 will still have to comply with EU regulations as well as UK ones, including EU CLP Regulation. This means you must classify and label your products accordingly. Though you will not need to submit notifications to the C&L Inventory.

If you are handling hazardous chemicals headed to the EU, Annex VIII of CLP will still apply for mixtures for professional and consumer use, though UK-based companies will not be required to submit a poison centre notification here.

Time to get planning

The sooner you understand what your obligations are during the transition out of the European Union, the sooner you can begin to make plans to comply. This may involve taking on more legal responsibilities than at present - even if you’re a UK-based operation dealing only with the UK market.  It is clear that UK REACH after Brexit will have a potentially significant impact on chemical supply and on business planning for the years ahead. As the Withdrawal Period ticks away, it’s time to seek advice, do your research, and put action plans in place to avoid consequences further down the line.

We have specialist teams of qualified chemists and regulatory affairs specialists who can advise on how to ensure your operation remains compliant after December 2020.