Caught in uncertainty
Prime Minister Theresa May has decided to launch formal Brexit talks with EU leaders by the end of March 2017. She will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which will be the start to a two-year countdown within which the UK must agree on a withdrawal deal with the EU. She doesn’t share the scepticism of experts who think that it is impossible to broker a withdrawal deal and make new trade arrangements within the two-year period. In fact, she remains firm on her stand that the UK will not seek an extension of the two-year period.
While the Prime Minister has revealed very little about her expectations from exit negotiations with the remaining 27 EU member states, the UK surely doesn’t hold the cards in its hand to demand a fair deal. Nevertheless, the issues to be settled are too many: Will UK continue to allow free movement of EU citizens across its borders? Will it allow oversight by the EU courts?
Europe has profoundly shaped domestic politics in the UK. It will certainly take time and effort to disentangle the UK from the EU. However, that doesn’t give leeway to the UK government to ignore environmental concerns.
Critics of Brexit have pointed out how UK’s existence within the EU framework has been a win-win situation so far. They argue that a critical turning point for the UK’s environment took place in 1972 when it became part of the EU. While the UK’s domestic policies were in line with the pollution limits and regulations set by the EU, hence witnessing an improvement the pollution scenario, the former took an active part in pushing other EU members to be ambitious about climate and energy policies.
But the vote for Brexit has changed the scenario and whetted fear among environmentalists for two plausible reasons: Following Brexit, the UK will no longer be under obligation to adhere to progressive policies on cutting greenhouse gas emissions and environmental legislation from the EU. Secondly, it puts the UK at risk of framing weak environmental standards and watering down investments for greener businesses.
According to Green Alliance—a UK-based independent think tank focussed on promoting sustainable development, “An estimated 80 per cent of the UK’s environmental legislation was developed with Europe, so the UK’s vote to leave the EU inevitably places a question mark over nearly all of our environmental protections. From policies that ensure our air and water are clean and protect our special wildlife, to those that keep us safe from exposure to toxic chemicals at work, a place will be needed for these protections in the UK’s future policy framework outside the EU.”
According to a recent YouGov poll, four in every five British adults think that the UK should have same or stronger environmental protection after it leaves the EU.