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Brexit and the Environment

As the UK begins to change its relationship with the EU, many expect Brexit to have significant impacts on the quality of our natural environment.

The UK’s 40+ year-long membership of the EU has had a significant effect on national environmental policy and governance. Leaving the EU could affect the UK’s policies, systems of governance and, ultimately, the quality of its natural environments.

After the referendum was first announced in 2015, a public debate began on how the EU had affected the UK. Voters suddenly wanted to know how EU policies were made, how they had affected the UK since 1973 and, most crucially of all, what would change in the event of a vote to remain or leave.

After the shock referendum result to leave the EU was announced, the demand for knowledge on the precise impacts of Brexit grew exponentially, particularly amongst MPs, government officials and pressure group campaigners.

Thanks to UEA’s extensive expertise in this area, our researchers were able to meet their immediate and longer term needs. They have helped to shape important choices around the delivery of Brexit, informing many pressure group campaigns. UEA’s research has also fed directly into the work of Parliament and several Whitehall departments.

In 2015, UEA’s Prof Andy Jordan was appointed as a specialist Advisor to the Environmental Audit Committee in the House of Commons. It conducted an important inquiry into how the EU had affected UK policy.  Since the referendum, he has made several appearances before select committees in both Houses of Parliament. In 2017, he was appointed to the Scientific Committee of the European Environment Agency.

Prof Jordan:  “During the Referendum many politicians, including the then Prime Minister David Cameron, cited the need for strong environmental protection as a reason to vote Remain. Our impartial evidence has influenced discussions in Parliament and the wider public sphere, enabling environmental NGOs to explain the issue of Brexit to their supporters”

In 2017, Prof Jordan, together with Prof Burns at the University of Sheffield and Dr Viviane Gravey at Queens University Belfast, established a new think tank called Brexit&Environment drawing on UK research council funding.  Brexit&Environment is a network of academics who are committed to providing authoritative and impartial research on how Brexit is affecting the environment.

In 2017, it was awarded the Insight of the Year at the national environmental impact awards organised by ENDS Ltd, the leading trade magazine. In 2018, the team won the ‘Outstanding Impact in Policy and Practice’ award at UEA’s inaugural Innovation and Impact Awards. It recognises impacts that have made “significant and direct changes in policy, or the way in which policies are viewed”.

Professor Andy Jordan received the Outstanding Impact in Policy and Practice award

As the Brexit talks have ground on, fears have grown that the UK could crash out of the EU without a new trading deal.  A report titled ‘UK Environmental Policy Post-Brexit: A Risk Analysis’ sought to offer an impartial analysis of the key risks. Commissioned by Friends of the Earth, it was co-authored by Prof Jordan. A number of environmental policies were looked at under a range of scenarios, including a very soft Brexit deal through to a very sudden and ‘chaotic’ separation.

Significant risks were identified in all the scenarios, particularly to the laws protecting wild birds and natural habitats. The report also highlighted fears of ‘zombification’ through which policies and standards inherited from the EU may not be adequately updated and enforced.  

The work of Brexit&Environment continues to be in high demand. The team is currently informing the design of a new national environmental watchdog, which will be established to take on the enforcement functions that are currently performed by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice.

Looking further into the future, lots of fresh thinking will be needed to ensure that the new trading relationships that the UK forges as a non-member state fully support environmental protection in the UK, in Europe and in other parts of the world.

Read more about our research on Brexit:

Brexit&Environment

The EU Referendum and the UK Environment: An Expert Review 

UK Environmental Policy Post-Brexit: A Risk Analysis’

Press release

Press release

Cost of a No Deal Revisited

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Professor Andy Jordan

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