All the way through the Brexit process, Defra secretary Michael Gove has sought to assure us that leaving the EU will mean a strengthening, not a weakening, of environmental standards.
In some areas, he and his department are on the right path. Defra are planning the first environment bill in 20 years and have laid out ambitious reforms to agricultural funding that see farmers rewarded for providing public goods.
Even in those areas where there is much to be done – such as providing a strong independent body to enforce environmental laws, or issuing a legal requirement for sustainable fishing limits – there is hope that proposals can be improved.
But the progress of the past two years has largely ground to a halt, and the country is facing the prospect of what was at one time considered almost inconceivable.
On Wednesday evening, as the indicative votes process narrowly failed to find a compromise, it emerged that there are now between 170 and 200 Conservative MPs who support a no deal Brexit.
Those who have signed a handwritten letter to the prime minister endorsing no deal apparently include cabinet ministers. Treasury minister Liz Truss said on the Today programme she had “no fear” of a no deal.
A few weeks ago the TUC and CBI came together to warn against it. Following similar warnings from civil servants, economists and councils, they argued that leaving the EU without a deal would cause reckless damage to jobs, rights and livelihoods.
Based on our analysis at Greener UK, you can add the environment to that list. Any government hopes for a ‘green Brexit’ are incompatible with no deal. From weaker chemical safety and deregulatory pressure, to gaps in how we enforce environmental laws, it is incredibly difficult – if not impossible – to find any ‘no deal’ benefits for environmental rights and protections.
This government has pushed green issues up the agenda. It is on the cusp of delivering reforms and legislation of huge importance.
It would therefore be a disaster if the next few days saw this opportunity exchanged for the risks, uncertainty and dangers of an unnecessary and avoidable no deal exit.