Brexit deal agreed: What does Boris Johnson’s withdrawal plan mean for green policy?

The UK Government and the European Union (EU) have finally come to an agreement on Brexit, which could see the UK leave Union laws through a set of 'level playing field' commitments on the environment and workers rights. Here edie rounds up what is known amidst the confusion.

Brexit deal agreed: What does Boris Johnson’s withdrawal plan mean for green policy?

The deal is now subject to a vote in Parliament on Saturday

Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed this morning that an agreement between the government and the EU on the UK’s departure from the bloc had been agreed. It means that the UK could leave the EU on the intended deadline of 31 October 2019.

However, the DUP have immediately vetoed the initial findings of the deal. Questions still remain as to whether Johnson will be able to collect a majority in the House of Commons to pass the deal. Already, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Liberal Democrat’s Jo Swinson have taken to social media to claim that the new agreement could create a ‘race to the bottom’ for key legislative frameworks, including environmental protections and regulations.


The latest revised agreement is available from the European Commissions’ website. It included clauses that enable the UK to come out from all EU laws, including the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policy – two standards that pro-Brexit supporters claim have stifled productivity and economic growth for workers.

Part of the agreement on the departure from the EU customs union and the laws that it enforces is a new regulatory system that the UK will need to stick to as part of any future trade deals with EU nations. This has been called a “level playing field”. This would require the UK to conform to EU standards on environmental policies and others as part of a trade deal, but the UK has no legal obligation to maintain current standards if no trade deal is agreed.

The document includes details of the EU laws which would be transposed into the UK under this level playing field agreement and the numerous emissions and environmental-related standards that the UK has signed up to throughout its membership of the EU. This includes directives on industrial emissions, transport emissions – including a variety of rules on Euro 5, 6 and 7 vehicles – waste, and biodiversity.

Michel Barnier has since publicly said that he wanted an agreement that “involved no tariffs and no quotas,” as Sky has reported. However, the viability of this deal will largely depend on whether the UK can stick to the level playing field on issues including state aid and eco-product standards.

The official “Political declaration of the future relationship” states the following:

“The Union and UK are determined to work together to safeguard the rules-based international order, the rule of law and promotion of democracy, and high standards of free and fair trade and workers’ rights, consumer and environmental protection, and cooperation against internal and external threats to their values and interests.

“The Parties will retain their autonomy and the ability to regulate economic activity according to the levels of protection each deems appropriate in order to achieve legitimate public policy objectives such as public health, animal health and welfare, social services, public education, safety, the environment including climate change, public morals, social or consumer protection, privacy and data protection, and promotion and protection of cultural diversity.”


The Parties should cooperate bilaterally and internationally to ensure fishing at sustainable levels, promote resource conservation, and foster a clean, healthy and productive marine environment, noting that the United Kingdom will be an independent coastal state.


The Parties recognise the importance of global cooperation to address issues of shared economic, environmental and social interest.


The Parties should uphold the common high standards applicable in the Union and the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period in the areas of state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environment, climate change, and relevant tax matters.


Already two sides of the stories seem to be emerging. Number 10 sources claim that the UK is indeed out of EU laws and customs.

But in a concession to signing up to a free trade agreement, the Green Alliance highlighted that although the UK will come out of EU laws, it would sign up to the ‘level playing field’ of the EU’s standards – effectively meaning that the only laws the UK could write would have to be better than current EU standards on the environment.

 There is also no guarantee that this deal will pass through Parliament.


A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister has confirmed that Johnson plans to put the Brexit deal to a vote in Parliament this Saturday (19 October).

Johnson may struggle to get this deal over the line, and there are some suggestions that the EU will publicly tell the UK that it is either this deal, or no deal.

Sky reports that Labour MPs will be told to support a second EU referendum in a House of Commons vote, as the party believes that any Brexit deal should be voted for by the public.


The deal still has to be signed off by all 27 EU countries, but political commentators are confident that it will.


A lot of the confusion will likely be resolved this Saturday, but the UK is under no legal obligation to stick to the “level playing field” agreement. A scenario could arise that if the UK is unable to agree on a trade deal with the EU, it could renegade on environmental and worker standards in order to secure deals elsewhere.

If the deal is passed and the UK departs the EU on 31 October, then Johnson has a one-year window to strike a deal before WTO rules apply. This could act as the window for the UK to renegade on existing standards.


edie is currently updating the Matrix ahead of the historic Saturday, 19 October session of Parliament, which will decide the fate of Boris Johnson’s deal currently before the EU leaders’ summit.

This download, originally published in April when Theresa May’s original Withdrawal Agreement was being voted upon, explores the potential exit scenarios and the impacts they will have on UK sustainability, energy and environment policy.

Under the original May Withdrawal Agreement deal, the UK would:

  • Remain under the Common Agricultural and Fishieries Policy until a new trade deal
  • All water and natural environment legislation would remain in place until a trade deal reached – regardless of the new Environment Bill policies
  • Working towards EU Circular Economy goals 
  • Chemical handling under REACH  

Whether it is the Government’s new Withdrawal Agreement, a no-deal exit on 31 October, or long-term policy decisions regardless of Brexit, this handy matrix provides an overview of how domestic environmental policy looks set to be affected. 

The Matrix maps out the various green policies that derive from the EU – such as chemical use and renewables goals – and explains what will happen across each of these areas will have based on what level of Brexit the UK eventually agrees on. 


Matt Mace & James Evison

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