As the dust settles on a remarkable vote by the British and Northern Irish public on 23 June 2016, it is fair to say that the impact on environmental regulations is not the lead story when commenting on how Brexit will play out.
Nevertheless, one of the key reasons for some businesses (particularly smaller companies) favouring the leave option, was excess regulation, including EU environmental legislation, perceived by some to be overly restrictive.
So what will be the impact of Brexit on environmental regulation in the UK?
In the short-term, and by this we mean the next 2-3 years, not much.
There are a few reasons for this:
- Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has not been invoked yet; this is the action that would trigger two years of negotiations to determine the terms of the UK exit from the EU. Given the political vacuum following the referendum (in both the ruling Conservative and opposition Labour parties), and the potential for political and legal challenge to invoking Article 50, this likely won’t happen until 2017, at the earliest. Using this timeline, the UK would remain part of the EU, and subject to EU Regulations and Directives, until into 2019.
- Most European influence over environmental regulation in the UK is in the form of Directives, which have to be transposed into UK law; so even once Brexit is complete, these laws would remain in place, and would have to be repealed or amended. The appetite to do this (and for environmental laws to be prioritised for such action) is currently unclear.
- Many European Directives are substantially influenced by long-standing UK legislation; examples include the EU Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive (2008/1/EC) and the EU Directive on Environmental Impact Assessment (2014/52/EU). Given that this legislation originated in the UK, it is unlikely that the UK would significantly water down their requirements.
- Major environmental frameworks, such as the Contaminated Land Regime, National Planning Policy Framework, etc., are specific to the UK and would not be directly affected by Brexit.
- Where EU environmental laws apply to products, any exports to Europe will have to meet the requirements of the EU regulations in any case.
That all being said, the political context in which we make the above comments is rapidly changing and the outcome of Brexit negotiations on medium and long-term strategic goals, particularly around climate change and energy, could be profound. And even where EU and UK goals are broadly aligned, the detail of UK regulations will undoubtedly begin to diverge from that of their EU neighbours as time moves on.
Staying abreast of potential changes to the environmental regulatory landscape is crucial for companies, investors and developers with UK interests. TRC can help you do this at both an operational and strategic level.
If you have any questions about the impact of Brexit on UK and European environmental regulations on your business, please contact Will Nitch-Smith in our London office.