October 5th, 2018
The coming weeks are critical for the Brexit negotiations and the future EU-UK relationship.
Negotiations are intensifying in the build-up to the October European Council summit, with the added bonus of a possible extraordinary summit in November at which an Agreement will be presented.
Accompanying any Withdrawal [Brexit] Agreement will be a Political Declaration on the future EU-UK relationship.
This Political Declaration will provide the framework for the negotiations on the future relationship which will start after the UK exits the EU on 29 March next year and which will conclude by 31 December 2020 (the end of the transition period).
We know that the present Withdrawal text includes very scant reference to maintaining the existing environmental standards between the EU & UK.
However, the European Council guidelines from March commits to ensuring a “level playing field” in the future relationship across competition and state aid, tax, social, and importantly, environment and regulatory measures and practices. Leo Varadkar reiterated this yesterday in Brussels:
“We couldn’t have a situation whereby UK businesses still had access to European markets but at the same time were able to lower wages, to lower labour standards, lower environmental standards, lower health and safety standards, lower product safety standards . . . In order to have free trade you must have fair trade as well and a level playing field .”
So if the Withdrawal Agreement will not deliver a level playing field, then the Political Declaration must.
Delivering a level playing field for the environment is not solely about delivering for the natural environment. It is also about ensuring common standards for business and industry and preventing a race to the bottom in cutting standards and costs.
So what should the Political Declaration include? At a minimum, it should include a set of substantive rules anchored in EU law and covering core requirements in relation to nature protection, water quality, air quality, waste management and environmental assessment.
There must also be a clear commitment binding the EU & UK to mechanisms for the effective oversight and enforcement of environmental standards, as well as dispute settlement including legally binding decisions and sanctions.
And this all needs to be drafted and delivered by the middle of November.
By Mike Walker
Mike is a campaign consultant with over 15 years’ experience working with civil society groups. He has developed and implemented key strategies in support of the historic reform of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy; contributed to the #NatureAlert campaign to protect the EU’s Birds & Habitat Directives; and was director of the Southern Ocean campaign that successfully advocated for the designation of the Ross Sea marine protected area (now the biggest in the world). He is currently advising the Environmental Pillar on Brexit matters.