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UK plans further 2-year delay to post-Brexit chemicals safety regime

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The UK is planning to give industry an extra two years to implement a new post-Brexit safety regime for chemicals that has faced fierce opposition from manufacturing and business groups.

The decision follows sustained pressure from industry, which last February demanded a radical rethink of plans to create a new UK chemicals safety database, which they warned would cost UK businesses up to £1bn to implement.

George Eustice, the environment secretary, said in a letter to the Chemical Industries Association, a lobby group, that the government was now “minded” to extend the cut-off date for full registrations for the UK database by two years to October 2025.

The move is the latest in a series of delays to implementing post-Brexit plans, many of which duplicate existing EU safety regimes.

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In March the government announced it would delay plans to introduce full border checks with the EU for six months to January 2022; and in August the deadline to adopt a new “UKCA” safety and quality mark for UK goods after Brexit was extended by a year to January 2023.

Under the original plans for chemicals, companies were given until October 28 this year to provide basic registrations for chemical substances with a new “UK Reach” database, essentially duplicating the EU Reach database run by the EU Chemicals Agency.

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They were then given until October 27 2023 to provide supporting safety data for chemicals, a demand which the industry warned in February would be hugely expensive duplication of existing EU safety data and could lead to “additional and repetitive animal testing”.

In his letter to the CIA, Eustice said the government was “currently minded to extend the 27 Oct 2023 deadline to 27 Oct 2025” and would also consult on “what, if any, extensions of the other deadlines would be appropriate”.

He added that officials would now explore “a new model” for UK Reach registrations that would look to “reduce the need for replicating EU Reach data packages” — a key industry demand from February.

Industry has welcomed the move. Steve Elliott, CIA chief executive, said the lobby group was pleased that the government had acknowledged the “huge cost implications” arising from UK Reach, and that “an alternative way forward is now being considered”.

Fergus McReynolds, director of EU and international affairs at MakeUK, the manufacturers’ group, also welcomed the possibility of a two-year extension, saying that a “clear, efficient UK Reach system” was critical to many manufacturers’ success.

However, environmental pressure groups have warned that any new proposals for lighter-touch registration must not compromise safety.

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In March a group of more than 20 leading UK organisations, including the CHEM Trust and Breast Cancer UK, rejected industry proposals to streamline UK Reach as a “major weakening” of the envisaged post-Brexit regime.

Zoe Avison, policy analyst at Green Alliance, an environmental think-tank, said any future proposals had to require companies “to continue to provide safety information” as a condition of access to the market.

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