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ENDS BU

Environment After Brexit

Building an Agenda for UK Environmental Law and Business.

11 April 2017, Bournemouth University

Speaker interviews

Joan Walley, Chair, Aldersgate Group

What, in your view, are the main environmental risks from triggering article 50?

Faced with having to address every policy area, insufficient priority given to the environment by government and its negotiators. The EU has helped drive environmental improvements in the UK so the process of withdrawal must not lead to any weakening of our current environmental protections. Although the Great Repeal Bill will be helpful in achieving regulatory stability once we have left the EU, transposing legislation will not be a simple process, particularly because of the need to replace governance and enforcement arrangements that may no longer apply. Nor should Brexit entirely distract from other government priorities, such as improving the state of our natural environment via the 25 Year Environment Plan or supporting moves to a more resource efficient economy.

What do you think are the environmental opportunities?

There is a huge opportunity to reform public payments to agriculture in a way that is supportive of both enhancing the environment and sustaining farm incomes. Brexit will see the creation of a new support system in the UK and it should include increased incentives for sustainable land use practices that deliver environmental enhancements, such as improved water quality, flood protection and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

If you could give one piece of advice to environmentalists and businesses on how to approach such an uncertain moment in history, what would that be?

We have the opportunity to put forward policy ideas that are bold and innovative but we need to be prepared to do a lot of the heavy lifting as the capacity of the civil service will be very stretched. We also need to raise awareness amongst the general public, explaining the importance of embedding environmental policies across all policy areas.

What would be the ideal situation for UK environmental law in ten years' time?

We will have constructed a simple and stable regulatory and enforcement environment which supports activities that deliver high quality environmental outcomes and public support for this. There will be continued alignment between certain standards, particularly those surrounding products, as business and industry would prefer not to have to comply with multiple different regimes.

Robbie Staniforth, Commercial Manager, Ecosurety

What, in your view, are the main environmental risks from triggering article 50?

Traditionally, the UK has looked to the EU to provide a framework for environmental improvement. Frankly, the driving force has all too often been the Government's concern for being fined, or prosecuted.

Considering this, there is a real risk environmental protection and legislation will not be a priority when the UK leaves the EU.  This is not helped by the fact we hear so little from the Government to the contrary.  The current ‘trust us and it will be alright' approach isn't enough. There is a real lack of focus, which is leading many to conclude there is no overall vision on the environment. Many are concerned the Government will respond to short-term economic pressure, rather than act in the long-term environmental interests of the country.

Really, I want to be reassured all the work to date making companies and consumers recycle and re-use as much as possible, will not be wasted when we leave the EU.

What do you think are the environmental opportunities?

If more power is transferred to Defra, the Environment Agency, BEIS etc, which we assume will happen, that is a real chance for them to show their mettle, prosecute and take decisive action against polluters. Particularly in product legislation, it is an opportunity to prioritise UK environmental concerns and act quickly. Targeted action could have more immediate and tangible impacts than the current system.

Businesses and our industry need to ensure the Government doesn't pursue legislation based on grabbing headlines and generating votes. Some of the more obscure and uninteresting pieces of legislation to the voter are the ones that have delivered the greatest environmental benefit.

It could be a chance to rip up clunky legislation or rules, even whole departments, and replace them with something streamlined that carries more weight with producers and forces them to consistently do the right thing by the environment. There are EU tools that have a poor reputation for delivering results, especially around climate change. This is an opportunity to replace them with something much better.

If you could give one piece of advice to environmentalists and businesses on how to approach such an uncertain moment in history, what would that be?

Don't fall into the trap of thinking we must replicate the EU's directives and policies – and that's it.  Right now, I hear from many corners that at best it's business as usual until 2019, but Brexit is also the chance to mould something quite different, even better. Leaving the EU is not accepting the status quo. There is no reason why we should accept the EU's horizon either. We want to be in sync with it, certainly, but why should we restrict ourselves to the targets we've been set by them?   Rules and guidelines are very useful, but break-out innovations happen because somebody doesn't accept the roadmap.

We should be setting higher, more difficult recycling targets for ourselves. The industry should be using Brexit to innovate, not stagnate.

What would be the ideal situation for UK environmental law in ten years' time?

The UK's environmental legislative framework working in harmony with the EU's, with both progressively improving recycling targets. Reducing red tape in the UK needs to be balanced against the fact many companies still trade in Europe and thus must continue to comply with these rules.

Fewer, but better regulations and laws, so that producers are very clear about what they need to do to lessen their impact on the environment.  Businesses need clear rules and hate uncertainty. A clear image of what is and is not acceptable will push good businesses to do better, and bring less proactive businesses up to scratch.

Too much secondary law, which is not as robust as primary legislation, only creates loopholes and increases the chance businesses won't heed environmental protections.  We have one of the best legal systems in the world and it should be given the opportunity to create primary legislation the whole industry can abide by.

Kate Swade, Executive Director, Shared Assets

What, in your view, are the main environmental risks from triggering article 50?

Aside from the potential loss of all the environmental protection law that sits with the EU currently, it feels like the key risk is that the environment will not be considered enough of a priority when so much else is changing and needing to be negotiated.

What do you think are the environmental opportunities?

The key opportunity is for us as a country to stand back and have a strategic conversation about the type of environment we want; the food system, the land use system, the way we interact with nature - and to then put together the frameworks to help make that happen.

If you could give one piece of advice to environmentalists and businesses on how to approach such an uncertain moment in history, what would that be?

To collaborate, and collaborate widely. Not to just collaborate with environmentalists or other business people, but with the land and environment based social enterprises pioneering new approaches to land management, with community groups, civil society organisations and local government.

What would be the ideal situation for UK environmental law in ten years' time?

We would have seen some kind of land reform, particularly aimed at specifying and enforcing the responsibilities that landowners have to manage their land in ways that actively enhance the environment.

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