Category Archives: Brexit

In a Brexit compromise, MPs must consider what’s best for the environment

no deal smallThe prime minister’s announcement that she will work with the opposition to try to reach a compromise on Brexit is very welcome. Both sides need to be flexible. And when MPs get to vote again, they must show a greater willingness to compromise.

Brexit means Brexit, but we still do not know what Brexit means. If we are to find out, MPs must stop asking themselves, ‘what is the best outcome from my point of view?’ and ask instead, ‘what outcomes can I live with?’ Look down the list of how MPs voted on Monday and you will see some of the brightest and best from all parties, including some who care deeply about the environment, who made the best the enemy of the not-wholly-unacceptable. And the not-wholly-unacceptable is probably the best most of us can hope for now, given the pickle we are in.

Brexit is about many things, above all the big question of what sort of country we want to be. It is about culture, identity, nationhood, sovereignty, democracy, migration, citizenship and citizens’ rights, the economy, labour standards, food and product safety, trade, fishing, farming and much more. But it is also about the environment. What follows is a brief canter, from an environmental perspective, through the main options MPs will be talking about in the coming days. These are my personal views, drawing on analysis by Greener UK.

No to no deal
First, no deal must be avoided. It carries significant risks for farming, upland farming in particular; landscape and air quality, as lorries queue for miles around our major ports (“Kent, sir — everybody knows Kent — apples, cherries, hops,” …and a huge car park); chemical safety; environmental governance; clean energy; and much else. In the longer term, as Siemens UK’s chief executive Juergen Maier has pointed out, the loss of faith in the UK as a functional polity threatens our ability to forge a low carbon, high tech economic future. One of the many depressing things about Brexit is the insouciance with which some sensible and well-meaning people (as well as some who are rather less sensible) downplay the dangers of no deal.

The prime minister’s deal has promising language on the environment. The backstop section of the Withdrawal Agreement includes a mutual commitment to non-regression in most areas of environmental law. The accompanying Political Declaration says the future relationship will build on the Withdrawal Agreement. This is positive but, as a whole, the declaration is too vague. It needs to be underpinned by much stronger domestic enforcement. The UK government’s proposals on environmental enforcement in England (which could apply to Northern Ireland) fall short of the requirements set out in the Withdrawal Agreement. The Scottish and Welsh governments’ proposals lack detail.

What the deal choices mean for the environment
Greener UK has set out how the Political Declaration can be improved. Not least, it needs to say explicitly that one of the key purposes of the future relationship is to ensure a high level of environmental protection. If Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn take a version of the current deal back to the Commons, changes along these lines are essential. We also want the government to commit to report on changes to EU environmental law and give parliament the right, at the very least, to keep pace with them.

But it is unlikely that the prime minister will be around to lead the next stage of negotiations and some of her would be successors have made clear that they would adopt a radically different set of negotiating priorities. Boris Johnson, for instance, wants a Canada (or Korea or Mongolia) style free trade agreement with the EU; the UK would diverge from EU standards and potentially pivot towards US standards as the price of reaching a US-UK trade deal. So small improvements to the Political Declaration now cannot guarantee a future government’s commitments to high standards.

A customs union or ‘Norway-plus’ (‘Common Market 2.0’) relationship have both been proposed as ways to a softer Brexit, with fewer risks of divergence from high EU standards. A customs union would enable goods in the low carbon supply chain to travel freely within the EU, making decarbonisation more cost effective.

A Norway-plus agreement would be a closer form of UK-EU co-operation, requiring continued alignment with EU standards and enabling participation in EU agencies and programmes such as REACH, the Emissions Trading System and Natura 2000. The UK would be able to develop independent agriculture and fisheries policies, and we could decide to abide by the Birds and Habitats Directives. However, the UK would become a ‘rule taker’ from the EU, with a significant impact on citizens’ rights to participate in environmental decision-making.

The upsides and downsides of staying
Requiring a confirmatory public vote on any outcome gives the option of remaining in the EU. For many environmentalists, this seems obviously desirable. In fact, there are downsides, not least a loss of the energy that has come with having to decide our own environmental policies, rather than leaving them to protracted negotiations with 27 other countries. We would also remain in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Commons Fisheries Policy, though it is worth noting that the CAP is being reformed to allow member states more scope to develop their own policies.

More positively, within the EU, the UK would benefit from strong environmental governance and would participate in EU agencies and programmes with full voting rights. We would be able to influence trade negotiations and global discussions on issues such as climate change.

MPs get little sympathy, but most are having a rotten time at present. Brexit is messy. There are few wholly good outcomes available. Compromise is the order of the day, often with a side order of eating one’s words or reneging on manifesto commitments. But as well as asking themselves what is best for business or trade or workers’ rights, I hope MPs will also consider what is best (or least bad) for the environment. A soft Brexit or no Brexit look like the least risky options, followed by the prime minister’s deal. A Canada-style trade arrangement carries great risks. But worst of all would be no deal

 

 

 

How Brexit is already watering down environmental protections

This post is by Libby Peake, senior policy adviser at Green Alliance, and Ruth Chambers, senior parliamentary associate for Greener UK. It was first posted on Business Green.

Hidden amongst the dramatic politics of Brexit, a little noticed but nonetheless highly significant process has been unfolding: the transfer of 12,000 pieces of EU law into our domestic statute book. This has great significance for the environment as 80 per cent of environmental laws come from the EU. While the process is intended to ensure a smooth Brexit through the technical transfer of laws, the pace at which it has been done, as well as the challenge of faithfully replicating European laws at a domestic level, have meant this process has been far from straightforward. Read more

Time is running out for Wales to protect its environment after Brexit

brecon beacons smallThis post is by Sarah Graham of WWF Cymru.

With 22 days until we leave the European Union, the Welsh government’s plans for how it intends to retain and improve environmental protections remain a mystery. Unlike its counterparts in England and Scotland, it has not published any consultation proposals or draft legislation. Leaving the EU without these plans in place could have very damaging implications for people and nature. Read more

The government must not be allowed to mark its own homework on environmental standards

big ben smallThis post is by Lord Robin Teverson, chair of the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee. 

Back in February 2017, our committee published the report of its inquiry on Brexit, the environment and climate change. While covering a wide range of issues, one of the key findings was the vital role that the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union play in ensuring that member states (including the UK) comply with environmental legislation. We heard evidence that the effectiveness of EU regulation was due, in part, to the deterrent effect of the power of EU institutions to hold member states to account and to levy fines upon them for non-compliance. From recycling targets, to air quality plans, to nature conservation, we heard that the threat of EU infraction had shaped the UK’s environmental policy. Read more

Brexit: where do we go from here and what does it all mean for environmental politics?

theresa may smallWith parliament apparently unable to agree how to leave the EU, a second referendum and a decision to stay in the EU becomes a serious possibility. Most environmentalists I know were strongly pro-remain in 2016. They know how important the EU has been in raising environmental standards and pushing action on climate change. Read more

As nuclear strategy falters, the Brexit deal must prioritise electricity trading

english channel_nasa's marshall flight space center acknowledge_880The collapse of government talks with Hitachi this week takes almost 3GW of future nuclear capacity off the table. While opinion on nuclear is polarised, the UK had been relying on it to meet long term climate targets. With this week’s announcement, 9GW of proposed nuclear capacity has now been suspended. This leaves an increasing low carbon energy gap which will have to be filled by 2030 to meet legal carbon targets. Read more

Why a ‘no deal’ Brexit increases risks to the environment

air pollution smallThis post is written by Martin Harper, global conservation director at RSPB. It was first posted on his blog

Following the comprehensive rejection this week of the prime minister’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement by the UK parliament, and without stronger assurances which would avoid a disorderly Brexit, the risk of leaving the European Union on 29 March without a deal remains.

As politicians scrabble around to work out what happens next, I want to outline why the RSPB, and many other environmental NGOs, believe that ‘no deal’ would be such bad news for the nature. Read more

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