Wirral MP Margaret Greenwood is calling on the government to make a firm commitment to maintain the ban on asbestos after the Brexit transition period comes to an end on 31 December 2020 and as the UK negotiates trade deals with other countries.
The Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has said that while the government has committed in recent weeks to maintaining a “high level of protection of human health and the environment” post-Brexit, there has been widespread concern among campaign groups that this may change in the future.
In particular, the Wirral West MP is worried that rules could be relaxed when the UK comes to negotiate trade deals with other countries, including the USA where regulations allow use of products containing asbestos – such as certain car parts like clutches and brakes, building materials like roofing felt, tiles and cement products, heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets and coatings.
It was also reported last month that, in 2019 the US Food and Drug Administration confirmed that asbestos had been found in several cosmetic products, including make-up marketed at children, prompting campaigners to warn that a UK trade deal with the US could see the relaxation of stringent laws prohibiting the use of dangerous ingredients in imported cosmetics.
Ms Greenwood said: "The dangers of asbestos are all too clear. The impact of asbestos-related diseases can be devastating for individuals and their families.That is why I am calling on the government to maintain the ban on asbestos.
“We should not be lowering standards once we come to do trade deals with other countries, like the United States, that do not have the same restrictions on asbestos that we do in the UK.
“It is vital that the ban on the manufacture and supply of all asbestos products in the UK and the ban on its importation is kept in place.
“I have written to the Secretary of State calling on her to maintain the ban and urging her to stress the importance of this with her colleagues in the Department for International Trade.
“I am concerned that any reduction in standards either here in the UK or as a result of trade deals could put more lives at risk from asbestos-related conditions.
"I would like to pay tribute to the Merseyside Asbestos Victim Support Group for the great work that they do in lobbying on this issue. The government must maintain the ban on asbestos."
Asbestos was used widely in buildings and in industry after World War II up until the mid-1980s. As a result it has and continues to affect a very wide range of people, particularly those working in ship building, construction, electrical and heating engineering, firefighting and those employed in public buildings, such as teachers. The impact on individuals and families is very often devastating.
Ms Greenwood is also asking the government to rule out any further cuts to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which is responsible for enforcing compliance with asbestos-related health and safety legislation.
The agency will receive around £100 million less from the DWP in 2020-21 than it did in 2009-10 and saw its number of inspectors reduced by 25% between 2010 and 2016.
In October 2019, the HSE, which sits under the Department for Work and Pensions, reported that there are currently over 5,000 asbestos-related disease deaths per year in the UK, although this is expected to decline over the next decade and beyond.
People typically affected include those working in ship building, fire fighting, electricians and teachers.