The Memo: Brexit and the UK’s environmental standards

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Brexit and the UK’s environmental standards

Erin Bradbury – 5 February 2024

Even into 2024, Brexit remains in the headlines. And rightly so, given that it’s the UK’s current environmental standards that sit top of the pile. In fact, around 85% of our environmental regulations come from the EU. As such - even with the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill - many green groups have been concerned that changes could weaken the standard of existing protections. Recently, it was revealed by a Guardian study that the EU and UK are divided over their standards of protection relating to things like high carbon dioxide goods, chemical regulations, water quality, air pollution, fast fashion & food waste, battery recycling, electrical recycling, agricultural emissions, and deforestation as well as social climate funds.

This divergence has caused great concern not only for green groups but for businesses themselves, with anxiety over whether their exports will be allowed where their produce may no longer comply with EU legislation. Such concerns are valid too, as there have been cases of agricultural shipments being returned due to non-compliance (where the relevant parties had not been alerted by the government to the changes). Take pesticides, for example. Unlike the EU, 36 harmful pesticides can still be used in the UK, 30 of which were still in use in the EU at the time the UK left in 2020. Thirteen are categorized by the UN as highly hazardous. The emergency use of neonicotinoid (known to be highly toxic) has been granted by the government every year since Brexit (where such emergency use has been banned in the EU).

It is hard to predict what route our environmental regulation policy may take, especially with the buildup to a UK general election policy, there is plenty of room for movement. Yet the scale of the challenge highlights the importance of environmental lawyers, both in challenging legislation but also as advisors, keeping up to date with this tumultuous landscape of domestic and international regulation. For lawyers in the space, this kind of expertise is a must in order to best advise clients how to lessen the impact that they have through corporate practices and navigate regulatory changes.