Tag Archives: EU

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

 

 

 

The growing danger of a no deal Brexit

Europe849x566.JPGCould the UK leave the European Union in March next year without a deal? For all the talk of ‘no deal being better than a bad deal’, the suggestion seems absurd. No deal would be a disaster for both sides in the negotiations. Britain would crash out of the EU without a transition period, plunging the whole continent into recession. Surely no rational government would go there? Surely sensible people will agree, in the end, to do sensible things, and there will be some great, last minute Euro-compromise?

Well, maybe. But governments do not always behave rationally. Read more

How accountable will the government really be on the environment after Brexit?

2700549757_978a5e7bc1_bThis post is by Lewis Lloyd of the Institute for Government.

The government has promised to end the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the UK after Brexit, renouncing the oversight of the European Commission and the court as part of ‘taking back control’. But it is unclear how far the UK’s domestic governance structures will replicate the robustness of the EU institutions. The Institute for Government’s report, Who’s afraid of the ECJ?, indicates that the environment will be an area where the change is most marked. Read more

A border won’t be enough to control fish – only co-operation can

6926612069_923fe1576c_bThis post is by Griffin Carpenter, senior researcher at the New Economics Foundation.

Michael Gove has purportedly shown us what ‘taking back control’ really means, by drawing a 12-mile line around the UK for exclusive fishing access for British vessels. Now he has his sights set on an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 miles (or the median line). On a map, this looks like a win for British influence in the world, reminiscent of times past and conquering new territory. But the nature of influence and the transboundary movements of those pesky fish mean that this drive to etch battle lines has the notion of control completely backwards. Real control requires co-operation and shared management. Unfortunately, the idea of control offered by the most buccaneering Brexiteers does not seem to involve much co-operation at all. Read more

The EU’s ecodesign policy has a PR problem

Slice of burnt toast in a toaster machine

Toasters have been in the news again this week, with more controversy, and more delays to the long awaited ecodesign working plan from the European Commission.

The plan will cover the next group of energy related products to be given an innovation boost through ecodesign policies, which drive up energy efficiency standards, rewards market leaders and takes inefficient products off the market. Ecodesign has been one of the EU’s most successful policies: it is already saving each European household €330 per year, and will deliver 40 per cent of the EU’s 2020 energy savings target. Read more

After the Brexit vote: what next for the UK’s environment?

Westminster securityThis post is by Andy Jordan, Charlotte Burns and Viviane Gravey.  They recently co-led an expert review of the environmental implications of Brexit funded by the UK in a Changing Europe Initiative.

After a deeply divisive campaign, UK voters have opted by a small majority to leave the European Union.  Environmentalists are accustomed to most policy being made jointly with the EU. The shock result flips that assumption completely on its head. The referendum process may be over, but the hard political debate over policy starts now. Read more

We must now avoid a race to the bottom

Beautiful yorkshire dales landscape stunning scenery england ukThe environment community is in shock. Forty years of environmental agreements with our neighbours are now threatened by a vote in which the environment didn’t feature. The electorate voted by a small margin to build higher walls, but walls don’t work in the natural world. Within the next two years we will lose the best enforced nature laws in the world, which the UK did so much to help create.   Read more

Yesterday’s EU ruling on products is a triumph for British consumer rights

Macro photo of an cell phone with broken display screen isolatedHave you ever shattered your mobile phone screen? Or maybe your washing machine has packed up, and the repair costs so much you might as well buy a new one? Yesterday, national governments of the EU’s 28 member states, including the UK, have endorsed your right to repair these goods, by pledging to make manufacturers design more durable and repairable products. Read more

Low carbon UK: EU membership has put us in the driving seat of the electric vehicle industry

leaf4This post is by Bryn Kewley & Peter Clutton-Brock of E3G.

From an unassuming factory in Sunderland, the UK is leading the EU market in electric vehicles. It’s a market which is expected to grow quickly, with Norway already consulting on an outright ban on the sale of fossil fuel cars. Read more

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