EU wants environmental guarantees from the UK

Europe’s chief negotiator on the UK’s exit from the EU has insisted that Britain must agree to abide by EU environmental rules if it wants access to the internal market. Speaking at a special debate organised by the Group of 10 leading Brussels-based environmental groups (G10) earlier this month, Michel Barnier said the UK must agree to a ‘non-regression clause’ being included in its post-Brexit trade agreement with the 27-member bloc.

Following a referendum in June 2016, the UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, with a transitional period ending in full exit on 31 December 2020. Although the British government recently announced a 25-year environment plan, there are fears among the other 27 EU members that the UK might try to gain a competitive advantage in international trade by adopting less strict environmental standards than those to which EU members are committed – a practice known as environmental dumping.

Speaking at the G10 event entitled ‘Is Brexit a threat to the future of EU’s environment?’, Barnier said: ‘In the future relationship [between the EU and the UK] we should commit to no lowering of the standards of environmental protection. The agreement on the future relationship with the UK should include a non-regression clause ... It should prevent any reduction of the key pre-Brexit standards.’

The deal for the UK to leave the EU is expected to be concluded in the autumn, but the chances of it being ratified by the British parliament could depend on what an emerging EU-UK trade deal looks like. Speaking about this deal, Barnier said: ‘There will be no ambitious partnership without common ground on fair competition, state aid, guarantees against tax dumping and social standards, and, not least, environmental standards. Without a level playing field, the UK could – now or in the future – decide to reduce environmental protection to gain competitive advantage.’

Responding for the G10, T&E’s director for trade and regulation, Cécile Toubeau, said: ‘We are concerned at the prospect of a low-regulatory neighbour on our shores. We’re pleased that [the British prime minister] Theresa May has said there will be no race to the bottom, but the environmental movement is watching this very keenly.

‘If the UK wishes to retain access to the single market, we see that it must uphold the acquis, notably EU environmental, climate and health protection, it must be conditional on full UK compliance with future EU legislation on the environment and public health, the UK must respect the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice to ensure that laws are applied, monitored and implemented correctly, and any EU infringement procedures that the UK has on environmental matters must be concluded and implemented correctly.’

A recording of the full conference is available here.