UK progress on environment and climate significantly undermined by threat of no-deal Brexit

New analysis finds protections for the environment set to be weaker after Brexit, with particular fears over no deal

New analysis from major environmental organisations shows today that protections for all areas of the environment are set to be weaker after Brexit [1].

For the second quarter in a row, the Greener UK coalition concludes in its Brexit Risk Tracker that all areas of the environment are at “high risk” of being less protected after Brexit. This is despite a dramatic shift in the narrative around climate change, with the government setting a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and parliament declaring a climate and environment emergency [2].

Brexit is already weakening environmental protections

The government has repeatedly pledged to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation, and promised a ‘green Brexit’ [3]. Yet the coalition finds that all areas are at ‘high risk’ of weaker protections – from air quality and chemical regulation to water and nature.

The government’s draft environment bill includes plans for a new independent body to enforce vital laws, but the proposed Office for Environmental Protection has been found to be deficient by two select committees [4]. Delays to Brexit have brought delays to the bill, which puts considerable pressure on already challenging timescales. It is a similar story for agriculture, fisheries and trade.

Elsewhere, Greener UK has a number of concerns about the large amount of technical legislation that will transfer EU law into our domestic statute book. For example, on fisheries, the failure to carry over a legal commitment to ensure genuinely sustainable fishing limits could significantly water down environmental protections.

A looming no-deal Brexit

The main thread of the Tracker, however, is the ongoing threat of a no-deal Brexit. The economic risks would stall hopes on climate progress, with particularly damaging outcomes for the Irish energy market and potentially increased costs of decarbonisation. In agriculture, no deal would increase pressure on UK farming, with concerns for animal welfare in the short term and potentially increased pressure for deregulation in the longer term [5].

Shaun Spiers, chair of the Greener UK coalition, said:

“This is a strange time for environmental politics. On the one hand, candidates seeking to become Conservative Party leader and our next Prime Minister are queuing up to support ambitious targets for carbon reduction. On the other, some of them claim to be relaxed about the prospect of a no deal Brexit.

“We need to be clear that leaving the EU on 31 October without a deal carries great risks for the environment. It will make it much harder to protect and restore nature, clean up our air and tackle climate change. It will also undermine the scope for future environmental co-operation with the EU. At a time when politicians are at last recognising the severity of the climate and environmental crisis, it is deeply concerning that they are willing to take this risk.

“Theresa May leaves office with the legacy of a historic commitment that the UK will stop contributing to climate change by 2050 at the latest. The government has also promised an ambitious environment bill and vitally important legislation on farming, fisheries and international trade. We need to hear from the leadership candidates whether they will prioritise environmental recovery in the UK; how they will ensure that future trade deals do not undermine their green promises; and how environmental progress is compatible with their vision for Brexit.”


Notes to editors

[1] Greener UK, Brexit Risk Tracker 8: March – June 2019, June 2019.

[2] BBC News, Climate change: UK government to commit to 2050 target, 12 June 2019

[3] Defra Secretary Michael Gove at Prosperity UK, Green Brexit: a new era for farming, fishing and the environment, 15 March 2018

[4] Environmental Audit Committee, Scrutiny of the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, ‘The Office for Environmental Protection, 25 April 2019; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, New environmental watchdog needs greater independence and sharper teeth, 30 April 2019.

[5] Greener UK, Environmental concerns around no deal, 14 January 2019

Greener UK is a coalition of 14 environmental organisations working on Brexit. It includes RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, National Trust, ClientEarth, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.