Greener UK Risk Tracker argues that with less than four months to go until the UK leaves the EU huge uncertainties remain over the future of environmental safeguards
BusinessGreen ‘The government’s shock decision to delay today’s hotly anticipated parliamentary vote on its proposed Withdrawal Agreement has further fuelled fears a ‘no deal’ Brexit could unleash major environmental impacts and herald a watering down of green policies across the UK.
The Greener UK coalition of environmental groups today published its quarterly Risk Tracker, showing the levels of perceived risks across a range of environmental policy areas remain high.
The report argues there has been progress in some areas, with the draft Agriculture Bill providing the foundations for the government’s plan to reform farming subsidies to better support environmental outcomes and the Fisheries Bill delivering significant new sustainability commitments. Moreover, the Withdrawal Agreement brokered by Prime Minister Theresa May featured a non-regression clause within the proposed backstop that would stop the UK from under-cutting the EU on environmental standards post-Brexit.
The separate political declaration on the proposed future UK-EU trade deal similarly stressed the need for on-going environmental co-operation and shared goals between the two parties.
However, the Risk Tracker report highlights that these agreements do not fully assuage concerns from environmental campaigners and business groups. Most notably, the commitments to maintain strong environmental standards depend on the strength of the new enforcement mechanisms and new environmental watchdog the government is proposing, which critics maintain fail to replicate the relatively robust regime applied through EU agencies and courts.
Meanwhile, yesterday’s decision to delay the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in the face of what seemed to be an inevitable defeat has fuelled fears the UK could default to a ‘no deal’ Brexit unless parliament agrees on a path forward before the end of March next year. Greener UK and other environmental groups have previously warned a ‘no deal’ scenario could prove disastrous for the environment, leading to lorry parks in Kent, diesel generators in Northern Ireland, huge disruption to energy and clean technology trade, chaos for chemical regulations, and a renewed push by leading Brexiters to slash environmental regulations and seek a quick-fire trade deal with the US that opens up the UK to imports with lower environmental standards.
“The government has pledged to protect the environment during Brexit, but with less than four months to go until exit day we are unable to assign a low-risk rating to any environmental issue,” said Amy Mount of the Greener UK coalition. “Wildlife is quietly dwindling and pollution accumulating in our air, rivers, seas and countryside. We need to see the government plan for close co-operation with the EU post-Brexit, and to use the imminent draft environment bill to set the ambition and design the institutions that can bring about a healthier, more resilient natural environment.
“Aside from the threat of no deal, it is of major concern that the terms of EU exit on the table leave many future relationships possible, including a low-cooperation version which would leave the UK less able to protect nature, both at home and abroad.”
Theresa May has today kicked off a tour of European capitals in an attempt to secure new concessions on the issue of the backstop, which has been vehemently opposed by many of her own backbenchers.
However, the EU has ruled out a renegotiation that goes beyond largely cosmetic tweaks to the political declaration, fuelling fears the government could run down the clock towards next March before staging a vote – a scenario critics have warned could increase the likelihood of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.’ Click here to read more