Brexit and the Uncertainty of the Environmental Agenda in the UK

The disconnection process of the United Kingdom of the European Union (EU) has unleashed uncertainties in many areas and sectors of the country. Some experts are wondering how it will affect the exit of the EU to the environmental agenda and how they will respect the different regulations reached during the country’s membership of the European Union. In this article, Sara Rayo gathers some of the opinions published in the British mainstream about this new scenario.


Sara Rayo

In the midst of the negotiations towards the disconnection from the European Union, different sectors of society are concerned with the environment. The British Government, however, does not just position itself on what its environmental policy will be, generating misgivings (1) and hopes. On the one hand, there are those who see in Brexit a unique opportunity to lead a national project that protects the environment; On the other, those who fear that an exit from the EU will result in a loss of regulations to reach the green targets, established within the permanence, since these will no longer be restrictive.

Photo by –Sam–CC

The British position outside of Europe is still a mystery. There is still the possibility that, like other countries such as Norway or Iceland, the United Kingdom remains within the European Economic Area (EEA), in which case the European rules on “Close co-ordination with the European Union is possible even if it is out of it,” says The Guardian journalist Arthur Nelsen.

Environment Outside the EU

The coordination of British environmental policies with the European Union is difficult to imagine, according to analysts, on governance issues. In that diplomatic relationship, the United Kingdom could not participate in the process of deciding which rules it must abide by (2): “It is unlikely that the United Kingdom, as a powerhouse (3) of Europe, would well accept compliance with legislation in which it has no say (…) Without the European Union, Britain cannot push for better Agricultural and Fishery policies for Europe nor influence international rules and regulations protecting the environment at the same level“, says Natalie Himmel, member of the European Horizons think tank in The Huffington Post.

Natalie Himmel:It is unlikely that the United Kingdom, as a powerhouse of Europe, would well accept compliance with legislation in which it has no say

If the UK does not share its sovereignty over environmental issues, the current distribution of ministerial portfolios is worrying, with Andrea Leadsom as secretary of environment, environmental journalist George Monbiot said: We have an environment secretary whose ideology urges her to see the environment as an impediment to profit, (…) We no longer have a climate change secretary, of any description. We have a government that treats the Earth’s systems, upon which our survival depends, as an afterthought, or not a thought at all.

Views on  EU Influence

wind farm england photo
Wind farm English Countryside by elias_daniel

Opinions tend to be positive when examining the decarbonisation of the British economy linked to its membership of the EU. The usual argument is that the EU has driven the growth of renewables in the UK in recent years. Through its Renewable Energy Directive the EU “has stimulated the development of this sector with the ambitious aim of obtaining a 20% energy supply through this type of energy by 2020“, explained Ian Johnston, environmental correspondent in The Telegraph, in an article prior to the Brexit result.  In addition for many analysts like Emily Gosden, the EU has pushed to tackle water and air pollution; as a result, “Britain’s seas are far cleaner now than they were in the last few decades”, says the Environment Editor.  

Emily Gosden:“Britain’s seas are far cleaner now than they were in the last few decades”.

All in all, EU policies in environmental matters are not free of criticism; many see in the return of political and economic sovereign power a positive thing for the UK, like George Monbiot who criticizes the environmental policies of the European Union for their inclination to favor the economic model of capitalism. The journalist has criticized in The Guardian, for example, the European Union’s insistence on replacing oil with biodiesel in transport. According to Monbiot, biodiesel creates higher emissions of greenhouse gases and is behind the deforestation of much of the Southeast Asian forest, since palm oil is one of its components.

The perception of progress in the agricultural sector in membership of the European Union is often negative. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been widely criticized and sometimes accused of being behind the overproduction of food and soil erosion that affect the country. At the same time, the role of the CAP to advance food sovereignty in member countries is recognized, according to Joe Litobarski on the Debating Europe website.

The common denominator of both optimistic and pessimistic arguments in Brexit’s repercussions is that the environmental agenda should be on Theresa May’s main agenda. Environmental problems, political, social and economic well-being and international cooperation are closely linked and the UK will increasingly have to deal more and more with the demands of its trading partners.

In addition, due to the tradition of non-governmental environmental groups influencing British environmental policy, Teresa May’s Tory government, with an absolute majority, must listen to citizens to regulate environmental protection. A poll for Friends of the Earth’s YouGov campaign revealed that four out of five respondents want the UK to support equal or stricter laws than existing ones linked to the EU. There is a lot at stake (4), for the present and for future generations. Faced with misgivings about the lack of citizen participation in the Brexit negotiation process, the inclusion of citizenship in British environmental legislation is more imperative than ever.

Use of English for advanced Spanish-speaking students

(1) Misgivings
Definition: Distrust, suspicion, fear.
Example: “The British Government, however, does not just position itself on what its environmental policy will be, generating misgivings and at the same time hopes.”
Translation: El Gobierno británico, sin embargo, no acaba de posicionarse sobre cuál será su política medioambiental, generando recelos y a la vez esperanzas”.
Comment: It can also be translated by “mistrust” or “suspicion”.

(2) It must be abide by
Definition: Respect and fulfil norms, regulations or laws.
Example: “rules it must abide by”
Translation: normas que debe acatar ”.
Comment: Pay attention to the preposition “by” following abide.

(3) Powerhouse
Definition: a person, organization, or country with a lot of energy, power, or influence: The country is the economic powerhouse of the European Union.
Example: “as a powerhouse of Europe”.
Translation: como una de las grandes potencias europeas ”.

(4) There is a lot at stake
Definition: There is a high risk.
Example: There is a lot at stake for the present and for future generations“.
Translation: Hay mucho en juego ”.


Photo by –Sam–CC
Photo by elias_danielCC

Autor: Sara Rayo

I am a young professional with a strong passion for International Affairs, with a particular interest in Communication and Media. I hold a Degree in Journalism, a Degree in Politic Science and a MA in International Relations. These studies are complemented by my experience in both the private and public sector, in the areas of communication and policy-making. I am a team player with excellent organisation and communication skills. Twitter @srayocorrales or Linkedin.

Soy una periodista joven con un gran interés en las relaciones internacionales, en especial en comunicación y media. Estoy licenciada en periodismo y en ciencias políticas con un máster en relaciones internacionales. He complementado estos estudios con experiencia laboral en el sector público y privado, en las áreas de comunicación y política. Me encanta trabajar en equipo y tengo una gran experiencia en comunicación. Twitter @srayocorrales o Linkedin.

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