Flamborough Head, Yorkshire. Cliffs and stony sea with stone pillar at foot of cliffs.

Brexit and the environment Protecting what we have

How will the UK's exit from the EU affect nature and the environment?

80% of our environmental laws came from the European Union (EU). As the UK leaves the EU, these laws may be weakened, removed, or become harder to enforce.

Therefore, Brexit could pose a serious threat to our natural environment and our health in the future.

We need to make sure the government keeps these laws, and enforces them properly.

Why is Friends of the Earth campaigning around Brexit?

Brexit could have a wide-ranging impact on a number of environmental issues: fracking, air pollution, bees, food and more.

Brexit wasn't a vote to cut our environmental protections. In fact, 83% of the British public think we should keep these protections.

We campaigned around Brexit to make sure our environmental laws didn't fall through the gaps. And we're still working to make sure future protections are stronger, not weaker.

Green Brexit?

In 2018 Friends of the Earth commissioned an independent academic report to identify the environmental risks for the UK after Brexit. UK Environmental Policy Post-Brexit: A Risk Analysis confirmed that environmental laws could be weakened, leaving birds and wildlife habitats at risk.

The government's 2019 25-year environment plan was short on detail and weaker than EU laws in some areas. The Natural Capital Committee warned progress on its aims is too slow. Plus, without an independent watchdog, we can't hold the government to account. We need a strong Environment Bill to protect against environmental risks and drive action.

What did Europe do for us?

While far from perfect, EU membership benefited the UK’s nature and environment. 28 countries joining to tackle shared challenges across the continent led to healthier air, cleaner beaches and water, and more protection for animals, birds and their habitats.

  • In the 1970s the UK was known as the 'dirty man of Europe'. Pollution from UK coal-fired power stations was causing acid rain. Forests across Europe withered. EU action on air quality put an end to this. As a result, sulphur dioxide emissions dropped by 94% by 2011. This prevented an estimated 46,000 premature deaths between 1990 and 2001.
  • Some of the UK’s best loved nature sites were protected by the EU — places like Cannock Chase, Flamborough Head, Dartmoor and Snowdonia. Before European Nature Directives kicked in, we were losing 15% of our protected sites a year. Now it’s down to 1%.
  • In the 1970s we pumped untreated sewage straight into the sea. But EU laws, and the threat of fines, forced us to clean up our act. Now over 90% of our beaches are considered clean enough to bathe off.

Outside of the EU, these gains could be easily undone. There are some opportunities, such as improving the way we do farming in the UK. But we must make sure existing nature protections don’t get weakened.

We need strong environmental laws after Brexit

Friends of the Earth is campaigning for:

  • The UK’s environmental laws to stay as strong as, or stronger than, those in the rest of Europe
  • The UK to be an international leader on climate change
  • Any farming or land subsidies to be based on public good, for example improving biodiversity or better flood protection
  • The UK to keep working with our European and international neighbours on our joint environmental challenges.

Friends of the Earth believes passionately in democracy. We'll continue campaigning for the best environmental outcomes for all people, in the UK and abroad.

EU safeguards for nature

Across the UK hundreds of sites have been protected by the EU for decades. These sites are home to our most vulnerable species. But the UK didn't always abide by the rules. Our authorities have approved projects that threaten protected sites.

Thankfully, under EU law, any one of us could challenge those decisions. Christine Gibson from Greencastle in Northern Ireland, did exactly that. Her actions saved a protected breeding ground for seals and terns. Watch the video to hear her story.

Greener UK coalition

Friends of the Earth is part of the Greener UK coalition.

Greener UK is a coalition of environmental groups working together to ensure that the UK's environment is improved, not damaged, by leaving the EU.

It consists of RSPB, National Trust, The Wildlife Trusts, WWF, Campaign for Better Transport, CPRE, Client Earth, E3G, Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, WWT and Woodland Trust.