Environmental Law after Brexit

Whilst uncertainty continues over the timing and nature of our withdrawal from the European Union, so uncertainty continues over the future standards that will be applied to environmental law.

Some parties have expressed concerns that, once the UK is no longer required to implement EU standards, these will be relaxed in order to reduce costs to business.  However, it is also true to say that over time the UK and devolved governments have tended to “gold plate” EU standards rather than replicate the bare minimum in law.  This would suggest that we will continue to apply standards at or above those adopted by the EU.

It is, of course, entirely possible that our eventual trade deal with the EU will require us to keep pace with the EU on environmental standards.  The current draft Withdrawal Bill preserves EU derived law as it exists on the day of our exit but not thereafter.  Even if that draft is never passed, it is difficult to see a scenario in which the UK will tear up its environmental laws and replace them.  These laws have taken many years to evolve and are constantly under review as political realities change and new threats emerge.  Without the EU’s guiding hand there is also the issue of how to apply a framework across the UK and its devolved areas.

Moving forward, if the UK decides to keep pace then it may have to accept that it becomes a “rule taker”.  With no seat at the table, it will have no influence over policy direction.  Even if the UK adopts a policy of mirroring the EU standards it will still face the same problem.  Any independent approach will inevitably run into arguments about equivalence.

Environmental standards are likely to be one of the key battlegrounds on our exit from the European Union so the pace of legislative will doubtless be as rapid or even more so than currently.  It is very much a case of watch this space.

Tolhurst Fisher advises a number of waste operators and, working with colleagues across the industry, are involved with a wide range of environmental law issues.  Please contact Graeme Provan for further information.

Author: Graeme Provan