by Brittany Tofinchio Palmer
The United Kingdom (UK) held a referendum on June 23, 2016 to determine whether it should leave the European Union (EU). With the highest turnout since the 1992 general election, about 52% of voters voted to leave the EU. The results were shocking to many around the world and begs the question, what happens now? Interestingly, Google reported a spike in searches from the UK, after the vote, about the consequences of leaving the EU, and now, many are questioning whether the results can be ignored or if they are legally binding. One of the many major concerns that people have is how the UK’s exit from the EU will impact the environment and environmental regulations, so many of which have been put in place as a result of EU regulations and directives.
After the vote, EU businesses called for a reform in creating a friendlier environment for small and medium-sized enterprises by substantially reducing the bureaucracy, i.e. less regulations at the EU and national levels. UK chemical industry associations and the Chemical Business Association believe that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will bring both risks and opportunities for the chemical supply chain within the country and even allow it to prosper.
In terms of specific regulations, once the UK leaves the EU, it would no longer be subject to EU regulations, and the country could also repeal a number of EU directives it has transposed into law. One of the major regulations that will have a sweeping impact across the country and EU is Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). REACH will remain applicable to businesses at this point, but once the UK officially leaves the EU, the regulation would no longer apply to the UK. While there would likely be some kind of transition period if that were to happen, the UK could also decide to either leave REACH in place, or overturn it once alternative rules have been put in place – the more likely scenario. In the event that REACH is overturned, UK manufacturers would be required to have “only representatives” and UK exporters would still need to meet EU standards in order to export goods to the EU.
Aside from the chemical aspects, an investor research firm has found that the UK is likely to scale back its regulations on waste reduction and recycling, as it argued when they first went into effect that it would be too costly for businesses. In addition, recycling targets have been relaxed over the past several years. UK citizens may also see an increase in air pollution, as the Environment Minister has previously urged the British EU Parliament members to push for an amendment to air pollution regulations that would allow the UK to exceed the set standards. As for other areas such as climate change, and health and safety, a report on British companies found it unlikely that policy changes will be made as a result of the UK leaving the EU.
There is still a lot of ongoing discussion as to next steps for the UK and the country has two years to negotiate its leave from the EU. During that period, anything is possible.