UK Government faces fresh accusations of backtracking on post-Brexit environment pledges

The EU's directive banning plastic waste exports to non-OECD countries came into force earlier this month

The UK has exported around two-thirds of its plastic waste over the past ten years, according to campaign group A Plastic Planet. Much of this material will have been sent to non-OECD countries which often do not have the infrastructure to process it. As a result, plastic is regularly dumped or burned.

In its Manifesto ahead of the 2019 General Election, the Conservative Party pledged to end exports of plastic waste to developing nations – both because of the environmental and social issues which can result and due to an appetite to grow the UK’s domestic recycling sector after Brexit. The commitment is also noted in the Environment Bill.

Now, more than 20 MPs have voiced concerns that the Government is failing to uphold this promise. In an open letter sent to Westminster today (22 January), representatives from the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP are urging ministers to develop specific legal measures to ban all exports of this kind – similar to the laws implemented by the EU earlier this month. These requirements were not transposed in the UK through the Brexit process.

The letter is being co-signed by big-name environmentalists including presenter Chris Packham and UNESCO’s Special Junior Envoy for Youth & the Environment Georgia Elliott-Smith. Academics including Professor Sir Brian Hoskins from Imperial College London Dr Paul Butler from the University of Exeter are also offering their support.

It warns that the Government will fail to uphold its repeated commitments to a “Green Brexit” unless laws are tightened. Signatories are also concerned about the messages the UK is sending ahead of COP26 in November.

“There’s a lot of talk from the Government about tackling the world’s most pressing environmental challenges, but we are still waiting to see real action,” Lisa Cameron MP said. “Going back on promises and pledges is not the way forward if we are aspiring to be a global leader in rising to these issues.”

Food and farming

The letter comes as the UK Government is also facing accusations of failing to uphold environmental, social and animal welfare standards in its approach to agri-food imports post-Brexit.

On Tuesday night, MPs voted by 353 to 277 to throw out an amendment to the Trade Bill designed in the House of Lords. Proponents said that the amendment, which would give MPs and Lords more of a say on the shape of all future trade deals, would help them the Government to account over its non-regression commitments.

The Government told MPs that there are already sufficient safeguards on standards for imported products and some Tories argued that the amendment would slow down the process of agreeing and implementing trade deals. In the end, very few Tory MPs rebelled at the vote.

Sarah George

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