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Uncertainty and constitutional dispute puts Green Brexit at risk

10 October 2018


Brexit threatens to obscure the common environmental ambitions that unite the UK, according to a report.

Professor Richard Cowell, of Cardiff University’s School of Geography and Planning, is part of the Brexit and Environment network, which has spent the last year researching the implications of Brexit for environmental policy in a devolved United Kingdom. The group’s latest report states there are concerns among experts that the environment will be downgraded on the policy agenda once the UK leaves the EU.

The team, which has worked closely with stakeholders in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, has released a set of four briefing papers, with recommendations for each UK nation. They are summarized in an overarching report, Environmental policy in a devolved United Kingdom: Challenges and opportunities after Brexit.

Key findings include:

  • Brexit preparations threaten to obscure the common environmental ambitions that unite the Welsh, Scottish and UK governments;
  • The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has said it wants to co-design policy, but the experience of the devolved nations is that they are given little notice of announcements and have limited opportunities to shape policy;
  • There is concern that future trade deals will limit the ability of devolved governments to devise their own policies, for example by constraining their authority to limit the use of Genetically Modified Organisms;
  • Stakeholders are worried that the new environmental watchdog will be an English body with little interest in or understanding of the devolved nations;
  • There is strong concern that the innovative and ambitious policy-making in the devolved nations will be undermined by the UK government;
  • Northern Ireland risks being excluded from the post-Brexit environmental settlement because it has no voice in current discussions. This exclusion matters because Northern Ireland has a history of relatively weak environmental governance and shares many cross-border environmental challenges with Ireland.

Professor Richard Cowell, of the School of Geography and Planning, said: “Wales has already put in place a number of ambitious measures that demonstrates its ability to think strategically over the long term about how to deliver robust and effective environmental policies. But the way that Brexit has unfolded has served to obscure the common environmental ambitions across all four nations and heightened the risk that the environment will be downgraded on the agenda.

“The current model of UK environmental governance lacks transparency and accountability. The opportunity to address these flaws in a post-Brexit environmental settlement has yet to be taken. There is a risk that muddling through the Brexit process could ‘lock-in’ solutions that are undesirable, and ‘lock out’ better solutions that seem too difficult to implement.

“The UK government must work closely with Welsh government, along with its counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland to develop considered environmental policies which protect our natural resources for the future.”

The reports can be found at:




Northern Ireland:

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