|DRAFT AGREEMENT ON UK’s WITHDRAWAL FROM THE EU – IMPLICATIONS FOR ENVIRONMENT POLICY|
It remains unclear whether the draft withdrawal agreement published last week will be enacted. If it does, the impact on UK environmental regulations are likely to be as follows:
March 29 2019 to Dec 31 2020 – Transition period
In the transition period all EU environmental laws and regulations will remain legally binding and in force in the UK. This would include binding targets with 2020 dates, such as for renewable energy and energy efficiency. The Withdrawal Bill currently in Parliament provides for all EU law to be transferred to the UK statute book on March 29th – the UK would not be able to amend this law during the transition period.
During 2019, a proposed Environment Act may give some legal underpinning to the targets set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan. It will also compel the government to set up a ‘green watchdog’ to hold future governments to account over environmental policies and targets. The Government would be likely to use this Act as evidence that the UK would have regulatory equivalence with the EU on environmental regulations should this form part of the future UK-EU relationship.
Post 2020 option 1: Jan 1 2021 to date tbd – possible extension of transition period
The withdrawal agreement can be extended once, for an unspecified period of time. If this happened EU environmental laws would continue to apply in the UK.
Post 2020 option 2: Future UK-EU relationship takes effect immediately
The Withdrawal Agreement commits the UK and EU to ‘use best endeavours to ensure the necessary steps are taken so that the future relationship can take effect by the end of 2020’ i.e. at the end of the transition period.
The outline document published by the UK and EU gives little detail but proposes a ‘free trade area combining deep regulatory cooperation’ including a ‘level-playing field’ covering inter alia environmental standards. This reflects the intention set out in the UK Government’s ‘Chequers proposals’ which stated that “In the context of a deep economic partnership, the UK proposes reflecting its domestic choice to maintain high regulatory standards for the environment.”
It is also worth noting that the European Parliament has previously stated its view that compliance with current and future EU environmental regulations by the UK should be a basic requirement for any UK-EU free trade deal.
Post 2020 option 3: Single Customs Territory until Future UK-EU relationship agreed
If the transition period (whether extended or not) ends before the future relationship is agreed and implemented, then in order to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, the UK would enter into a Single Customs Territory with the EU.
During the period in which the Single Customs Territory is in place, the Union and
the United Kingdom shall ensure that the level of environmental protection provided by law,
regulations and practices is not reduced below the level provided by the common standards, and will continue to respect basic environmental principles (e.g. precautionary principle, polluter pays). It also compels both parties to set out joint commitments on specific environmental issues such as joint targets for reductions in certain atmospheric pollutants and “best available techniques” for industrial emissions.
The EU’s intention is that the Single Customs Territory will be used as a basis for any future trading relationship, which has caused controversy amongst some Leave-supporting politicians. Another point of contention is that the UK and EU must also jointly agree that the SCT is no longer needed to prevent a hard Irish border and different arrangements put in place – the UK cannot make this decision unilaterally.