UK green protections at ‘high risk’ post-Brexit

Key areas of UK environmental policy such as air quality, chemicals and waste are at "high risk" of being less protected after Britain's departure from the EU, a coalition of green groups has warned.

The Greener UK alliance’s latest Brexit Risk Tracker has found few signs that the environment is a priority for the UK Government in negotiations with Brussels.

There are anxieties about the levels of co-operation with the EU, with Greener UK warning that disagreements on emissions trading threaten high environmental standards.

This concern is matched on a national level. The coalition, which includes the likes of Friends of the Earth and the Green Alliance, warns that a forum of UK and devolved government ministers responsible for planning Brexit has so far demonstrated “little commitment” to adopt common frameworks to protect the environment.

Greener UK chair and Green Alliance executive director Shaun Spiers said: “There are serious concerns about the level of future co-operation between the UK government and the EU, and the impact this will have on issues such as climate change and air quality.

“We also fear there is a lack of willpower to ensure high standards across the UK when we lose the common frameworks currently provided by the EU.”

Adequate resources?

Concerns around the UK’s capacity to deliver a so-called “Green Brexit” must be resolved, the coalition insists.

In the last fortnight the Government has pledged to remove avoidable plastic waste by 2042, but this was followed by the announcement by WRAP – one of the main bodies charged with reducing it –  of the loss of around 25 jobs, a tenth of its staff, after years of budget cuts from Government.

Meanwhile, a recent National Audit Office report prompted questions about Defra’s capacity to deliver the demanding Brexit workload, while maintaining green standards and sustaining significant budget cuts.

Spiers said: “Michael Gove has been a highly engaged and effective Environment Secretary and the Prime Minister has promised to put the environment at the centre of government policy. 

“Yet these green aspirations have not carried over to the government’s narrative on Brexit.

He added: “As the Government has said, Brexit presents opportunities to restore and enhance our environment. This will not happen without adequate resources and better co-operation between the UK government and the EU, and within the UK.”

High risk

Greener UK’s Risk Tracker finds that chemicals and waste are still at high risk of seeing lower protection post-Brexit.

The UK is in breach of EU air quality regulations and Greener UK points out that the Government’s latest air quality plan is largely similar to a widely criticised draft.

On chemicals, campaigners warn that the UK’s proposed new policy to adopt the main rules imposed by the EU regime REACH will be “far less effective” than staying in REACH with access to its database of safety information.

Earlier this month, it emerged that the UK Government may have breached a major “environmental democracy” law by failing to consult the public when drawing up Brexit legislation.

A UN-backed committee has confirmed it is considering a complaint from Friends of the Earth that the government’s EU withdrawal bill breached the Aarhus convention, which requires public consultation on any new environmental law.

George Ogleby

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