The UK’s current environmental laws are heavily influenced by EU law. Essentially they fall into two categories – those that have come into place as a result of directives (which then have to be implemented by UK legislation before they come into effect in the UK) and those which are contained in EU regulations (which have direct applicability and do not require UK legislation before they take effect). Examples of regulations are those applying to chemicals and fertilisers. Examples of directives are those applying to packaging waste and landfill.
Many politicians behind the “Leave” campaign were stating that a UK Brexit would free us up from European red tape and bureaucracy. However the reality is that the UK will want to negotiate new trading arrangements with the EU. There is a lot of uncertainty at present over the form that these new trading arrangements will take – for example will we join the EEA, in which case most EU environmental legislation would still apply, or at the other end of the spectrum will we simply rely on the World Trade Organisation, in which case (on the face of it) all EU environmental regulations and all new (or as yet unimplemented) environmental directives would not?
The reality is that before UK businesses can export to the EU, any new trade agreements will be bound to include requirements forcing them to adhere to certain EU laws, especially those relating to product standards. So it is very unlikely that Brexit will in fact result in the UK gaining the freedom from bureaucracy and red tape that some politicians were saying it would.
To the extent that the UK is left with holes in its own law because EU regulations no longer apply, there will be work for the UK Parliament to do to pass new legislation covering those areas. One example is likely to be monitoring the use of hazardous chemicals, which is currently the remit of the REACH regulations. The time spent drafting and enacting new UK legislation will have a cost associated with it.
The UK is also now likely to have less influence on the world stage when it comes to formulating environmental policy, compared to the influence it had as a member of the EU. Indeed the UK may also find itself having to comply with new EU environmental legislation without having a say in shaping that legislation. In order to retain a credible voice in world discussions, the UK may well have to direct part of its budget spend to such a cause, rather than simply benefitting from the EU’s budget for the shaping of worldwide environmental policy. To a greater extent than in almost any other field, environmental policy planning is global because of the international effects of pollution and climate change.
The message for businesses
Given that most UK businesses directly or indirectly rely on trade with the EU, a complete release from environmental red tape is extremely unlikely. There may be some watering down of environmental control in the short term, but in order for the UK to remain a credible trading partner and to have a credible voice on the world stage, this is unlikely to last for long.
The message for individuals and businesses
Much of what we do, or others do, on our own land or on land that we are intending to acquire is governed by UK environmental legislation – for example the legislation relating to contaminated land, the discharge of pollutants into watercourses and so on. The contaminated land regime, which did not originate from Europe, will continue unaffected as will the planning regime and its applicability to the clean-up of contaminated sites when development (including change of use) is intended. So also will the laws relating to nuisance, negligence and the escape of substances (such as heating oil from domestic oil tanks) from land onto other people’s land or into watercourses.
At Thomson Snell & Passmore we have a sound appreciation of the law when it comes to environmental problems. We understand the importance of proper due diligence, and where our clients are liable we are experienced in obtaining the best outcomes in any investigation and in claiming compensation when others are responsible.
If you have any questions regarding the impact of Brexit on trading, please do not hesitate to contact Nicholas Horton, Partner in our Dispute Resolution team at Thomson Snell & Passmore LLP on 01892 701313 or at email@example.com.