Brexit withdrawal agreement pledges no reduction in environmental protection during 'backstop'

Environmental protection laws - including those covering environmental impact assessments (EIAs) - will not be watered down following the UK's exit from the European Union (EU) during the period of the proposed 'backstop', under the terms of the draft Brexit agreement issued earlier this week.

EU: draft withdrawal agreement published
EU: draft withdrawal agreement published

The document, issued by the European Commission and the UK government yesterday, pledges that if negotiators fail to agree on a free trade area that would prevent a hard border in Ireland, the whole of the UK would remain within a customs union with the EU - the so-called 'backstop'.

As part of this backstop, the document pledges that "the level of environmental protection provided by law, regulations and practices is not reduced below the level provided by the common standards applicable….at the end of the transition period".

The pledge would apply to EIA and strategic environmental assessment (SEA), and would mean that current rules would remain in force following the transition period after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, which ends in December 2020, if the backstop takes effect at that stage.

Currently, EIA is required for planning applications and other proposals of a certain type or size, and SEA is required as part of the evidence base underpinning local plans and certain other planning policy documents.

The agreement follows the government's publication last month of a series of statutory instruments which had the effect of confirming that the planning laws governing the requirement for EIAs and SEAs would be left unchanged after Brexit.

Other environmental activities covered in the draft withdrawal agreement's pledge include access to environmental information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters.

Also covered are industrial emissions; air emissions and air quality targets and ceilings; nature and biodiversity conservation; waste management; the protection of the aquatic environment; the protection and preservation of the marine environment; the prevention, reduction and elimination of risks to human health or the environment arising from the production, use, release and disposal of chemical substances; and climate change.

The withdrawal agreement also commits the UK to "respect" the principles of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development in future environmental legislation, including the principle that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source; the precautionary principle and the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

Planning analysis how post-Brexit environmental rules could affect development can be found here. 

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