• International Workplace
  • 21 February 2018

Government faces challenges in environmental standard setting post Brexit, report reveals

A new report published by the United Kingdom Environmental Law Association (UKELA) highlights the challenges facing governments in the UK in developing environmental standards after Brexit.

The report, Brexit and Environmental Law: Environmental Standard Setting after Brexit, recognises the considerable activity at EU level to develop the standards that apply under EU-derived environmental standards. Withdrawal from the EU, it says, raises the prospect of the UK ceasing to be involved in this activity, and having to decide whether and how to develop domestic processes for setting environmental standards.

The report considers the particular challenges that arise in three different scenarios:

  1. If the UK is required to keep pace with EU standards under the terms of withdrawal or a trade agreement;
  2. If the UK wishes to keep pace with evolving EU standards as a matter of domestic policy; and
  3. If standards are to be developed domestically.

The third scenario – setting standards domestically – raises the biggest practical and legal challenges, as governments will need to decide how to repatriate the considerable work currently undertaken at EU level. The report takes two contrasting case studies: standard-setting for industrial processes and water classification standards. It considers whether current arrangements might suggest starting points, or provide lessons, for developing standards domestically after Brexit. In both cases, the report recommends that governments consider ways of involving a range of stakeholders, including regulators, industry and environmental NGOs, in developing standards after Exit Day.

Andrew Bryce, co-chair of the Brexit Task Force set up by UKELA, says:

“If the UK and devolved governments wish to set standards domestically after Brexit, a huge amount of work will be needed to develop procedures and institutions for doing this. If arrangements are not put in place, we risk having standards that are frozen in time, and that are not capable of addressing technical innovations or developments in scientific understanding of environmental risks.”