Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

As a result of Brexit, Britain is becoming a receptacle for toxic chemicals, a concerning issue pointed out by George Monbiot.
Environment World News

As a result of Brexit, Britain is becoming a receptacle for toxic chemicals, a concerning issue pointed out by George Monbiot.


Brexit may be advantageous for manufacturers or distributors of harmful chemicals, but for the general public, it adds yet another burden as a result of the deceitful and unethical actions of those who pushed for the UK to exit the EU.

The government mandated a distinct regulatory framework for chemicals, which may seem illogical at first glance. After all, chemical regulation is complex and costly. Why duplicate the European Union’s system, which involves significant expenses and a team of scientists and administrators? Why not simply adopt the UK as standards based on EU decisions? After all, having common regulatory standards would facilitate trade with other European countries. However, the reasoning behind a separate system is now clear. It allows the UK to potentially become a destination for hazardous chemicals that do not meet European safety standards.

Despite promising to maintain environmental protections while negotiating our departure from the EU, our government has failed to uphold their commitments. In a speech titled “Green Brexit” in 2018, the then environment secretary Michael Gove declared that not only would we not abandon the environmental principles we adopted while in the EU, but we would also strive to strengthen our protection measures. However, these promises have proven to be unreliable, much like a fake £3 coin with Boris Johnson’s face on it.

The regulatory system that we take pride in quickly spiraled into complete disorder: the type of disorder that the wealthy capitalist supporters of the leave campaign may have anticipated. It wasn’t until last month that the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) finally released the chemicals regulation work plan for the fiscal year 2023-2024. This happened just six weeks before the deadline. Despite promises of escaping the “inefficiencies” of EU bureaucracy through Brexit, the situation remains chaotic.

According to Chem Trust’s campaign, our alternative to the EU’s system, known as UK Reach, is facing challenges such as lack of funding, limited staff, a shortage of skilled workers, and an overwhelming workload. This appears to be a deliberate failure, which is a common occurrence in environmental regulation in the UK.

Our susceptibility to harmful substances has been heightened due to this malfunction, which has resulted in certain toxins being prohibited or limited in Europe. An example of this is tetraethyl lead, which has been removed from fuel for land vehicles, but is still utilized in aircraft fuel, exposing us to the neurological effects of this chemical. Despite the EU finally recognizing the need for a ban, the UK has yet to follow suit, allowing it to still be used in our country. The same neglect can be seen for endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in children’s toys, formaldehyde, brominated flame retardants, and microplastics purposely included in fertilizers and artificial sports fields.

The European Union (EU) has its flaws and has gone back on some promises, but it is taking action against harmful chemicals that can lead to cancer, diseases, and damage to ecosystems. While the UK has left the EU, its regulators have not implemented any new bans or restrictions on harmful substances. This sense of self-dependence may evoke strong emotions in regards to patriotism, whether it be in the throat, chest, stomach, or liver.

Unfortunately, it seems that we have regressed in some aspects. The decision has been made by the government that there is no urgency in implementing workplace exposure limits for dimethylformamide, restricting polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons on synthetic sports pitches, regulating lead in PVC products, and addressing hazardous substances in disposable nappies. The reasoning behind this decision is that there is currently no evidence to suggest that these substances pose a unique risk in Great Britain. Is it possible that the use of these substances in the UK carries different risks compared to their use in other countries? It is speculated that the national pride and determination of this country may protect us from the harmful effects of these chemicals that affect other populations.

The European Union has implemented a complete prohibition on neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been deemed ecocides due to their widespread effects. However, despite this ban, the UK government has continuously granted “emergency” exemptions to sugar beet producers and the National Farmers Union since leaving the EU. In August 2020, British Sugar requested an extension of up to three years to allow for the development of alternative solutions. Despite this, the government has approved another authorization in 2024. It may be beneficial for the government to inquire about the progress of British Sugar’s development from their managing director, who is easily reached as they are married to the health secretary.

As our knowledge grows, we become more aware of the potential harm caused by chemicals that were approved without thorough testing or thought. Recent research has shed light on the dangers of PFAS compounds, also known as “forever chemicals”, and the harmful effects of pesticides and microplastics in soil. This highlights the importance of applying the precautionary principle to protect our health and the environment. Often, by the time we realize a substance is more dangerous than we initially thought, it has already become a permanent part of our ecosystems, bodies, and daily lives.

The UK government seems unable to create new safeguards for the public, and even more strangely, they are unable to enforce the regulations that currently exist due to external pressure from lobbying, donations, and favors. The bodies responsible for protecting us from environmental damage, such as the Environment Agency and the HSE, are severely lacking in resources, authority, and morale. This is where most deregulation takes place – not in the creation or removal of rules, which should theoretically be subject to debate in Parliament, but in the government’s refusal to enforce them, which is not up for discussion.

A team of individuals, known as Fighting Dirty, has decided to take legal action against the government due to their repeated neglect in safeguarding the well-being of both individuals and the environment from toxic chemicals. This includes the government’s refusal to regulate or test the wide range of harmful substances being used in sewage sludge on agricultural land. We have recently received approval for a hearing in a higher court. These legal measures are a final course of action, as regulatory guidelines and the agencies responsible for enforcing them have become severely weakened.

Brexit was sold to us on the grounds of intangible gains: a sense of autonomy and pride, particularity and independence. These intangible gains are accompanied by tangible losses: real impacts on our health and wellbeing. We might have left the EU, but we did not escape the demands of predatory capital. Far from it: freed from European restraints, they trickle insidiously into our lives.

  • George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

  • Come join George Monbiot on May 8, 2024 at 8pm BST for a virtual event hosted by The Guardian Live. Monbiot will be discussing his latest publication, “The Invisible Doctrine: The Secret History of Neoliberalism.” Book your tickets now.

Source: theguardian.com