A greener Brexit


    The EU referendum was the largest democratic exercise ever held in the UK. But when it was first mooted there were few experts who fully appreciated what was at stake for UK environmental policy and governance.

    Spotting an opportunity, UEA’s Prof Andrew Jordan established a new thinktank and drew on decades of his own highly cited research to directly shape policy debates, before, during and after the 2016 referendum.

    Through repeatedly informing discussions in parliaments at EU level and across the UK, as well as within the Greener-UK alliance of NGOs (which has a combined membership of nine million people), Prof Jordan directly shaped several ‘once in a generation’ laws, including the 2018 EU Withdrawal Act and the 2021 Environment Act, and triggered the establishment of new regulatory watchdogs covering all four nations of the UK.

    Today these watchdogs are helping to protect the environment and transform the landscape of UK environmental policy and governance.

    An expert in waiting

    In 2013 very few people fully appreciated how deeply EU law was embedded in UK-wide environmental policy and governance, and thus the full enormity of the policy choices that lay ahead.

    From the mid-1990s, Prof Jordan was instrumental in pioneering a new area of research which sought to understand how, why and with what effect national decision-making had been systematically ‘Europeanised’ by the EU, as well as probing the reciprocal links with international environment and trade policies.

    Supported with long term UKRI funding from two Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded centres (CSERGE and Tyndall) and several large research grants, Prof Jordan is a Web of Science highly cited researcher, one of only 180 social scientists in the world each year. Across the three research areas underpinning this work (environmental policy, environmental politics and the EU), Google Scholar ranks him amongst the four most highly cited academics in the world.

    And so, when the Brexit debate began, he was ideally placed to inform vital discussions around UK and EU environmental policy.

    Refining research for impact

    To achieve lasting impact, research must first be made ‘policy-relevant’, a process of knowledge exchange that Prof Jordan was central to after 2013.

    First, he actively contributed to the Balance of Competences Review, a Cabinet Office-led stocktaking exercise; his submission was cited 14 times in the Environment/Climate Change chapter.

    Then, when the in/out referendum was announced, he teamed up with leading UK environmental charity Green Alliance and the ESRC’s UK in a Changing Europe thinktank to spearhead a systematic review of the relevant research. This review was awarded ‘Insight of the Year’ at leading trade magazine Environmental Data Services’ National Environmental Impact Awards in 2017 and influenced chief executives from several large NGOs who used its headline findings as they starting engaging more directly with their members. Until that point, many had adopted a ‘wait and see’ strategy.

    Brexit&Environment, which quickly established itself as the ‘go to’ destination for impartial, authoritative research on the environmental implications of Brexit"

    Around the same time, Prof Jordan was appointed as a specialist advisor to the influential Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) in the House of Commons. According to its Chair at the time, Prof Jordan “briefed me… helped non-specialist committee staff with witness selection and drafting of questions and authored committee briefings and much of the final report”.

    Then, following the shock referendum result in June 2016, and when demand for impartial knowledge rocketed, Prof Jordan was instrumental in the creation of a new thinktank, Brexit&Environment, which quickly established itself as the ‘go to’ destination for impartial, authoritative research on the environmental implications of Brexit. It has since produced influential reports for Friends of the Earth, the Royal Town Planning Institute, and the Soil Association. In 2018, it won a UEA Innovation and Impact Award in the ‘Outstanding Impact and Policy and Practice’ category.

    Towards a ‘cleaner, greener future’

    Within days of the referendum result, Prof Jordan was invited to advise the influential House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee on the timing, content and scope of future inquiries. He drew its attention to the fact that unless steps were taken, significant policy and governance gaps would appear when the UK left the EU. He also advised that in addressing the gaps, the government risked inflaming tensions between the four nations of the UK. He was cited on the opening page of its 2017 report Brexit: Environment and Climate Change, and on a further 11 occasions.

    Other influential bodies quickly took note of that report, agreeing that a new body – or watchdog – would be needed to hold the UK government to account, that environmental principles should be embedded into domestic law, and that all EU-derived law should be retained in UK law after EU exit. These proposals were eventually enacted in two flagship bills – the EU (Withdrawal) Act (2018) and the Environment Act (2021).

    Brexit&Environment associates participated fully in the drafting of the Environment Bill and their submitted evidence was referenced over 30 times in the EAC’s pre-legislative scrutiny report on it.

    Prof Jordan drew its attention to the fact that unless steps were taken, significant policy and governance gaps would appear when the UK left the EU"

    According to its Chair, “[Andrew’s] written and oral evidence was of the highest quality and helped us shape our final recommendations to government”. Similar evidence was fed into – and published by – equivalent inquiries in the four nations. Subsequently, the Welsh and Scottish governments announced similar bodies, the latter via the 2021 EU (Continuity) (Scotland) Act.

    In 2017, Brexit&Environment joined a new network, the Broadway Initiative, comprising environmental NGOs, business associations and professional bodies. This network produced an agenda-setting blueprint for a new environment act containing binding long-term targets. Prof Jordan and other leading members of the Broadway Initiative discussed it with the Prime Minister’s environment team at 10 Downing Street in October 2018.

    The Broadway Initiative co-hosted an event at the QE2 Centre in February 2019 and, in his keynote speech, the then Secretary of State Michael Gove announced that binding long-term targets would be added to the face of the Bill. When it eventually appeared in the Queen’s Speech (October 2019), the Prime Minister described the Bill as “the huge star of our legislative programme… which will guide our country towards a cleaner and greener future”.

    The English watchdog – the Office of Environmental Protection – was formally vested with regulatory powers in 2021, the first environmental regulator to be created in the UK in over two decades. In 2022, it began receiving complaints from the public about potential breaches of environmental law across England and Northern Ireland.

    Read on: Huge gaps in EU regulation
    exist following Brexit

    RElated content / sources

    Professor Andy Jordan’s bio, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research





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