Brexit Background

The EU Referendum

On 23rd June 2016, the Conservative Party held a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU). The referendum result was a narrow majority in favour of leaving the EU. We issued a statement immediately after the result was announced, and a follow up statement a week later.

Article 50 and the Plan for Britain

On 29th March 2017, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty with a letter to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. This began the two-year divorce process allowing for exit negotiations. Unless this period is extended by mutual consent, the UK will leave the EU by the end of March 2019.

Prior to triggering Article 50, the UK Government published its Brexit White Paper which intended to provide a clear vision of what they are hoping to achieve in negotiating the UK’s exit from, and new partnership with, the European Union. Scotland and Wales have also published White Papers on Brexit. The UK Government also launched the Plan for Britain (and Northern Ireland) website, which outlines how the Government intends to “build a stronger, fairer Britain as we leave the European Union” and their 12 objectives for the negotiations ahead. At the time of its launch there is no mention whatsoever of the environment.

On 29 March 2017 the European Parliament published a motion for a resolution to wind up the debate on negotiations with the UK following its notification that it intends to withdraw from the EU. The motion states, “that any future agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom is conditional on the United Kingdom’s continued adherence to the standards provided by the Union’s legislation and policies, in, among others, the fields of the environment, climate change, the fight against tax evasion and avoidance, fair competition, trade and social policy.”

EU Withdrawal Act

On 30th March 2017 the UK Government published their Great Repeal Bill White Paper, which sets out the Government’s proposals for ensuring a functioning statute book once the UK has left the EU. We have looked at the significance of the environment in this paper.

The UK government published the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on 13th July 2017, which transfers all existing EU law into domestic ‘retained EU law’ and gives powers to UK Ministers to change or remove this retained law. We have looked at the potential concerns for the environmental sector. We have also, as part of the Environmental Policy Forum, written to the UK government regarding our concerns with the Repeal Bill.

The Withdrawal Bill received Royal Assent on 26th June 2018 and was written into law as the Withdrawal Act. The Act was finalised after a series of amendments in the House of Lords which led to Parliamentary ‘ping-pong’. You can view the debates at all stages of the Act’s development, and the final version on the Parliament website. A useful overview of issues and documents relating to the Withdrawal Act can be found on the Public Law For Everyone website.

The Scottish Government has published its own continuity bill following disagreement over the powers proposed in the Withdrawal Bill. This was agreed in Scottish Government but has been referred to the Supreme Court. Wales also released its own bill, however this was repealed following an agreement with Westminster.

UK General Election 2017

The snap general election called by Prime Minister Theresa May for 8th June 2017 added another layer of uncertainty to Brexit.

In response to the Prime Minister calling the general election we wrote to all of the main political parties to call on them to include in their election manifestos a commitment to maintaining, or better yet enhancing, the protection of the natural environment following the UK leaving the EU. We then analysed each of the published manifestos for their environmental content and credentials.

After the election the CIEEM President wrote about the uncertainty created by the result. We have also drafted an overview of the environmental content of the Queen’s speech.

Michael Gove was appointed as the new Environment Secretary and gave his first keynote speech on 21 July 2017.

Implications for Ecology and Environmental Management

Most of the UK’s wildlife and environmental legislation is based on EU legislation. Changes to the legislation, under which most of the UK ecology and nature conservation profession works, will have potentially profound and serious implications for our members and the sector.

We are working to have as much positive influence on the changes to legislation in relation to the natural environment as possible.

Please visit our Policy and Brexit webpages to keep up to date with developments.

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