Green Brexit? New research finds weaker environmental protections than already exist under EU law
A new and independent academic report assessing how our environment will fare post-Brexit is released today (12 April 2018), and it makes worrying reading.
One of the major areas of concern is the UK’s water. Largely thanks to EU directives, England now enjoys the cleanest bathing waters since records began. Incidents of serious pollution are going down and rivers are reviving. However, the report shows that under all scenarios our water faces high risks. These regulatory gaps raise the prospect of ‘zombification’ of UK environmental policy: where EU policies are retained, and exist on the UK statute book, but without a system of governance to enforce them.
The report, commissioned by Friends of the Earth, makes concerning reading for nature. The Birds and Habitats Directives have successfully protected vulnerable species, as well as crucial habitats like the matchless Dartmoor and Snowdonia. Yet of all the environmental policies and scenarios reviewed in this report, the Habitats and Birds Directives are most at risk.
Professor Charlotte Burns, University of Sheffield, report author said:
“The government committed to a green Brexit but our analysis demonstrates that its delivery will be challenging. Every Brexit scenario carries risks for our environment with nature protection being particularly at risk even under the soft, ‘Norwegian’ option.”
The report finds that risk under the ‘Norwegian’ model is lower than other scenarios, as much of EU environmental law would still apply. However, even under this model we would lose vital protections like the Birds and Habitats directive. At the other end of the risk scale lies the chaotic no deal scenario, which poses very high risks to our environment right across the board.
Kierra Box, Brexit campaign lead, said:
“We were promised that Brexit wouldn’t harm our environment - but this analysis shows that under all scenarios currently on the table, this promise will be broken.
“Brexit is now just a year away, but we’re not prepared. Report after report is showing that decision-makers have not identified ways to make sure that the UKs future relationship with the EU locks in environmental protections – in fact, they’ve set down negotiating red lines that actively stand in the way of a ‘green Brexit’.
“The legal safeguards are not in place for nature and the climate. And promises of action are just backed up by more promises of action. Time is running out.”
The report further points to the lack of ambition in the government’s recent 25-year plan for the environment. It says that the plan “contains lots of promises to bring forward consultations, strategies and polices in the next year to two years. Worryingly though, where concrete commitment is made they generally offer weaker protection than that currently provided under EU law.”
Friends of the Earth and other green groups have been calling for a muscular UK environmental watchdog to be put in place, which Mr Gove promised would materialise in time for exit day but so far has not. The means falling back on weaker international commitments which will leave the UK environment at risk.
Kierra Box concluded:
“We hope this report will spur parliament to make much needed changes to the Withdrawal Bill, currently in the process of going through parliament, to lock in guarantees for our environment that the report authors have found lacking so far. Both the UK and the EU need to put their ‘red lines’ to one side and put our environment, health and the future of our planet first.”