Famous faces unite against post-Brexit environmental ‘race to the bottom’

An unlikely alliance of business entrepreneurs, media personalities and sporting figures have come together with green groups to warn that Brexit could lead to an "environmental race to the bottom" if the low-carbon economy isn't prioritised.

The high-profile ensemble, which includes tennis ace Andy Murray, singer Will Young, comedian Alistair McGowan and Dragon’s Den star Deborah Meaden, has put forward a concern that the UK could be on the verge of watering down climate change and environmental commitments during the Brexit negotiations.

A joint letter, written in collaboration with a number of environmental organisations such as WWF, RSPB and Friends of the Earth (FoE), calls on the UK to deliver on its promise to “leave the environment in a better state for future generations”.

“In doing so, we will help build a greener, better and more prosperous future for everyone, rather than driving an environmental race to the bottom,” the letter reads.

Snap election

The letter, which has also been signed by some prominent sustainable business experts including John Elkington and Sir Ian Chesire, claims the UK Government has been “dragging its feet” over the release of long-awaited environmental frameworks such as the 25-Year Environment Plan and the Clean Growth Plan.

And these concerns will have heightened today (18 April) after Prime Minister Theresa May’s surprise decision to call a snap general election in June. It is now unlikely that the Environment Plan or the Clean Growth Plan will be published in the near future, as the purdah (pre-election period) rule prevents central and local government from making legislative changes six weeks before a scheduled election.

Ministers must, however, produce a draft Air Quality Plan by 24 April after a successful legal challenge from environmental law firm ClientEarth ruled that the Government’s 2015 version failed to comply with relevant EU Directives.

Trading away protections

An estimated 80% of UK environmental regulations originate from the EU. With Article 50 now triggered, attentions will inevitably turn towards whether the Government can guarantee that existing environmental laws will be maintained as primary legislation post-Brexit.

“Our environment must not be sacrificed during the Brexit negotiations,” WWF chief executive and letter signatory Tanya Steel stressed. “The UK Government must deliver on its promises and leave the environment in a better state for future generations rather than trading away protections for our nature and climate.”

Steel’s views were echoed by former CBI chairman and fellow signatory Lord Adair Turner, who highlighted the post-Brexit potential for UK businesses to save £23bn a year by turning to more resource-efficient measures.

“Following the Paris Agreement, and with the impact of climate change on homes and businesses becoming impossible to ignore, the UK Government must embrace a low-carbon future both in domestic policy and through international trade deals,” Turner said.

George Ogleby

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