Environmental safeguards under greatest threat since start of Brexit process

Major green organisations cite no deal and potential jettisoning of EU standards as significant concerns

New analysis from Greener UK has determined that the environment is now under greater threat than at any point since the start of the Brexit process [1].

In its latest Brexit ‘Risk tracker’, the coalition expresses concern that the government appears set on moving away from the EU’s relatively strong rules and regulations [2]. While the prime minister has professed a desire to adopt ‘world-class’ standards, the lack of detail around why, how or to what end the government wants to diverge from EU rules is prompting questions about the government’s real intentions [3].

These fears are compounded when considered alongside support for a deregulatory agenda within government and ministerial support for signing a quick trade agreement with the United States [4].

The latest ‘Risk tracker’ also expresses grave concerns about the potential consequences of a no-deal Brexit – from harmful stockpiles of waste and lower chemical safety to threats to sustainable fishing levels in the event of potential disputes over access rights. There are serious concerns for nature protection and food quality, should farmers be forced to compete with low quality imports in the wake of a no-deal exit.

Despite improvements to the draft environment bill, meanwhile, the government is yet to bring forward the full bill. This has hampered the country’s response to the environmental crisis, delayed debates over necessary improvements, and leaves an alarming gap in enforcing vital laws across the UK in the event of no deal. In spite of recent announcements on enhancing biodiversity internationally, a lack of government progress in enacting the agriculture and fisheries bills has undermined efforts to address the significant declines in nature in the UK [5].

Shaun Spiers, chair of Greener UK, said:

“Ministers once promised a ‘green Brexit’, but it is hard to remember a point over the past three years when the environment felt more under threat.

“The government must now spell out why it wants the freedom to move away from the high environmental standards we currently enjoy. Rhetorical commitments to “world-class” policies are not enough. Without firm commitments rooted in law, we have to be concerned about weaker standards, for food, chemicals, nature protection.

“We know that Boris Johnson cares personally about the environment. He now needs to set out unequivocally how he intends to protect it and the standards we have built over 40 years.”



[1] Greener UK, Brexit Risk Tracker, mid-June to September 2019.

[2] Financial Times, ‘Boris Johnson demanded the EU allow UK to diverge from standards’, 3 September 2019; Financial Times, Johnson seeks to woo US business with low-tax vision, 23 September 2019.

[3] Boris Johnson, Letter to Donald Tusk: United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, 19 August 2019.

[4] The Times, ‘It’s the cabinet of the libertarian comeback kids’, 26 July 2019; The Sun, Boris Johnson and Donald Trump agree to strike UK-US trade deal by July 2020, 23 September 2019.

[5] The Guardian, Boris Johnson unveils £1.2bn for climate and endangered species, 22 September 2019; WWF, Is this the future of UK nature?.