Last week, the Prime Minister promised the House of Commons that ‘we must and will embed the strongest possible protections for workers’ rights and the environment’ after Brexit.  She also indicated that the UK should match (and in our view hopefully exceed) future EU environmental protections and indicated a willingness to legislate ‘to ensure that those commitments are binding’.

These are good intentions but have yet to be backed up with concrete proposals.  The draft Westminster Environment Bill (which only applies to England) is weak, we are still awaiting equivalent legislative proposals in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the detailed commitment by both the UK and EU to retain existing environmental protections is only contained in the so-called ‘backstop’.  The Political Declaration on the future relationship is less clear and could be significantly improved with regard to environmental protection and future co-operation with the EU. 

I have already set out how ‘no deal’ would seriously increase risks to the environment and the need for political leaders to work together to avoid that outcome.  Today, we are publishing a paper by trade expert Sam Lowe on the risks of how a future US trade deal (and other pressures to relax regulation) might result in weakening of environmental standards.  

The potential impacts of trade agreements (particularly with the US) is a growing area of concern.  The conclusions of Sam Lowe’s paper (copied below) emphasise the relevance of the UK’s trading relationships with both the EU and US for future environmental standards in the UK.  In our view, this reinforces the need for civil society across the UK to be given a voice in the process of negotiating and implementing trade agreements.

Therefore, if the Prime Minister (and opposition parties) want to make good on promises to protect environmental standards after Brexit, politicians must (urgently):

  • Strengthen the draft Westminster Environment Bill to create a world-leading environmental governance structure post-brexit and complementary measures in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales
  • Give effect to the PM’s promise for the UK to match (and hopefully exceed) future EU environmental standards through changes to the Political Declaration on the future relationship with the EU
  • Establish a trade policy in primary legislation that safeguards the environment and gives civil society (and our elected representatives) a voice across the process of negotiating and implementing trade agreements

If you are equally concerned, I urge you to contact your MP to make your voice heard.

We are currently working with farming organisations to support an amendment to the Westminster Agriculture Bill that would safeguard our environmental standards. You can contact your MP to support this amendment at https://e-activist.com/page/37883/action/1.

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‘Examining the environmental implications of ‘Global Britain’

A briefing paper for the RSPB, February 2019

Sam Lowe

Conclusion

  • A comprehensive free trade agreement with the US would require the UK to pivot away from some existing EU regulatory approaches, particularly in the area of food hygiene. It is in the US’s economic and geopolitical interest to put strong regulatory demands on the negotiating table. While a pivot is not in the UK’s economic interest, if it is unable to negotiate a relationship with the EU that grants its goods exports access to the European market on similar terms to now (which will be difficult given the existing UK red-lines), the sunk costs of the new regulatory barriers to trade and bureaucracy will be high, reducing the marginal cost of further divergence, increasing the appeal of an FTA with the US or domestic deregulation.
  • New free trade agreements are unlikely to have a direct impact on the UK’s environmental policy (beyond SPS), although increased UK demand could have ramifications for the environment in the countries with which the UK strikes an agreement. Rather, the policy decisions required to achieve them – specifically, a harder Brexit and a looser relationship with the EU - create political economy conditions more receptive to those voices pushing for competitive de-regulation, and a shift away from the EU’s precautionary approach to environmental governance. Indeed, talk of new free trade agreements could be viewed as a stalking horse for a broader domestic deregulatory agenda that would otherwise not prove so popular with the public; both require that the UK fully extricates itself from the EU’s regulatory rule book and architecture, but one has more public salience than the other.
  • In the event of no deal, it is unlikely that tariff removal alone will translate into lower prices for consumers, although it could lead to the UK sourcing greater quantities of certain foods from further afield, with potential environmental implications for the UK’s overall food footprint. The need to see off no-deal induced food price inflation, combined with potential increased competition from foreign producers, will probably exacerbate calls from certain sectors for a weakening of domestic British environmental protections.

 

Sam_Lowe-Trade-Paper-2019.pdf
Anonymous
  • I have read the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill. It in my opinion as an individual is nowhere near adequate enough to return us to the position we were in as a member of the EU. The bill could have set environmental standards in law, those standards set out in the information paper, but by the bill left to a statutory body to enforce. We know how statutory bodies, such as NE, are more driven by the wishes of the government in power than by the duties required of them by statute. As an individual, am I expected to formulate a proper draft bill and send it to my MP? That's a difficult task for individuals. Does the RSPB have better ideas published anywhere. I do know that the Peoples manifesto for wildlife set out what an environment act should look like, but that was spread out in the manifesto and probably took up a large proportion of the document. If I am to write to my MP, who will take no notice of my wishes in any event, I'd rather formulate my letter to him based upon some document somewhere, only suggesting where I believe that could be improved, or emphasising why it is perfect. I'm not able, I have decided, to write my own environment bill, but I know the government proposals in the draft are well short of what is required. We individual supporters of the RSPB and other conservation charities need more guidance. Please help us, because we cannot drat an adequate alternative bill as individuals, and nothing else will do.