Abbreviated as “Brexit,” the British Exit refers to the decision of United Kingdom (UK) to leave the European Union (EU), which unexpectedly won by 51 percent votes two years ago. Along with this agreement, the British government guaranteed its citizens that it will keep on protecting the environment through the recently launched 25-year environmental plan.
The UK environmental secretary Michael Gove was quoted in a Politico opinion piece saying that Brexit is “a chance to take back control of our environment.” He then referred to the 25-year action plan launched by their Prime Minister Theresa May as “the way to Green Brexit and beyond.”
However, in a risk analysis commissioned by Friends of the Earth and conducted by researchers from the University of Sheffield, Queen’s University Belfast, and University of East Anglia found out that the environment protection rules in UK are most likely to weaken with Brexit deals. Also, the analysis found out that the environmental plan launched was poor on details and much less ambitious than the current EU standard.
“The 25-year plan was depressing and concerning. If the government is not tied down to strict standards, we will see waning investment in the environment and less capacity for NGOs to challenge what they do in the courts,” said author and Sheffield University professor Charlotte Burns.
The study is a comprehensive response to Friends of the Earth’s question: “what, if any, are the risks to the environment from the various post-Brexit relationships currently being discussed.” The analysis involved creating models out of 15 environmental policy areas under five trade arrangements – Norwegian, Canadian, Turkish, planned no deal, and chaotic no deal.
All of the five trade options were found to pose very high risk to habitats and birds. Among the five options, the Norwegian trade agreement, which is the model closest to EU standard, shows the lowest risk in the other 14 policy areas, ranging from limited to moderate risk levels. On the other hand, the chaotic no deal option poses the highest risk and the farthest from EU.
With the risk analysis on hand, Friends of the Earth and other campaigners are seeking environmental regulations to be written by UK and EU – environmental non-regression clause, for instance.
“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. 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,” said Kierra Box from Friends of the Earth.
A spokesman from UK’s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs said in response to the risk analysis, “As Friends of the Earth have themselves said, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy has encouraged environmentally damaging methods of farming. Leaving the Eu also means we can create a more sustainable fisheries policy and do much more to improve animal welfare. We will soon consult on an independent, statutory body to hold the government to account on the environment and on a new statement of environmental principles.”