December 8, 2018 8:00 PM

Harder Brexit options pose greatest threat to UK environmental safeguards, says new report

Possibility of scrapping more than 200 key EU laws would put protection of food, air and water safety at risk and make it harder to meet climate change targets, according to IPPR analysis.

Both a “no-deal” Brexit and a free trade agreement along Canadian lines would significantly weaken safeguards for UK environmental protection, according to new analysis by IPPR.

Either of what may be the two most likely Brexit outcomes would also greatly reduce current cooperation with the EU on environment and climate change, with “no-deal” particularly likely to impact the UK’s involvement. They would also be likely to lead to the UK being excluded from the internal energy market and the EU’s Emissions Trading System.

Although the UK could continue to adopt equally stringent – or stronger – environmental safeguards, the IPPR report finds there is a real risk that the opportunity to diverge could lead to lesser protections.

The IPPR analysis follows the draft agreement struck last weekend between the UK and the EU, including the political declaration that set the outline framework for their future relationship. It lists three main means by which the EU currently influences UK environmental law, all of which would be weakened or lost following Brexit:

EU legislation covering environmental policy, energy, climate change, food and farming, contained within more than 200 directives and other laws. These include laws that govern clean air and water; set standards for fuel quality and renewable energy targets; key aspects of the Common Agricultural Policy, aimed at environmentally-friendly farming; and of the Common Fisheries Policy, aimed at creating sustainable fishing.

“Policing” of EU environmental law as applied in Britain by the Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union – the UK has often been encouraged into action by the threat of sanctions.
Financial support by the EU of environmental projects, through programmes such as the LIFE fund, which supports environmental, nature conservation and climate action; the Horizon 2020 research programme; European structural funding, supporting projects in poorer regions; and financing from the European Investment Bank. Between them these sources contribute nearly £3 billion in funding and lending to UK-based organisations each year.

In total, IPPR analysed four possible scenarios for the UK’s departure from the EU: a single market and customs union; a ‘customs union plus’; a free trade agreement; and exit with no deal.
Scenario 1 – remaining within a single market and customs union – would ensure the greatest continued alignment between British and EU laws on environmental protection, the report concludes. There would be continued supranational enforcement and the UK would be required to match EU laws as they develop in future.

Scenario 2, a customs union with many EU laws adopted to reduce friction in trade, would also be likely to require regulatory alignment on much environment and climate legislation, but there is a risk of weaker monitoring and enforcement.

Scenario 3, a free trade agreement, would be likely to result in the UK (except for Northern Ireland) leaving the internal energy market and the Emissions Trading System. The EU would expect Great Britain to agree a “non-regression clause” to prevent backsliding on environmental standards, but these would be relatively weakly enforced and the UK need not follow suit if EU protections become tighter.

Scenario 4 – no deal – would leave Britain free to strengthen or dilute current environmental protections as it chooses, with no EU involvement, and would end other forms of UK-EU cooperation on the environment and climate change.

IPPR’s report recommends that whatever form Brexit takes, the UK introduces a Sustainable Economy Act as the centerpiece for an ambitious post-Brexit environmental programme.
This would provide a framework for far-reaching, binding targets that could go further than current EU legislation – extending them beyond climate change to biodiversity, soil fertility, air and water quality, use of plastics and other areas where urgent change is needed.

Marley Morris, IPPR Senior Research Fellow and the author of the report, said:
“The UK’s future relationship with the EU could have major implications for its environment and climate change policy. The closer the relationship between the UK and the EU, the stronger the safeguards for environmental protections. While the UK could forge an ambitious path on the environment under any potential Brexit scenario, under no deal there is the greatest scope for lowering current protections.”

The IPPR paper, Brexit and the UK’s Environmental Ambitions by Marley Morris, will be published at 0001 on Friday Nov 30. It will be available for download at:

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