Brexit White Paper: next steps for wildlife

Curlew © Darin Smith

Following the vote by MPs yesterday to trigger Article 50, and the subsequent publication by the Government of a White Paper we are a step closer to exiting the European Union. But what does this mean for wildlife and our environment?

Over 80% of people polled last year* think that wildlife protections after Brexit should be the same or higher than current EU standards – yet to date the environment has hardly been mentioned by the Government. It is not one of the Prime Minister’s key negotiating issues, but it is vital that the future of our environment has a place in this debate. Our departure from the EU will have a disproportionate impact on environmental policy and laws (since compared to other areas of domestic policy, the vast majority derive from EU legislation) but it is far from clear what Brexit will mean for vital wildlife protections.

We know that EU protections for our wildlife have been effective – and in fact more planning and funding are needed to reverse nature’s decline. A recent Environmental Audit Committee report is clear on its recommendation that the Government must not weaken environmental protections during the process of leaving the EU or afterwards. It calls for a new Environmental Protection Act during Article 50 negotiations to maintain the UK's strong environmental standards. An Act is also supported in the fourth report from the Natural Capital Committee.

To date, 180 MPs from all parties (including 10 from Hampshire) have signed the Greener UK Pledge for the Environment in support of the following aims:

  • To establish the UK as a world leader on the environment by committing to match or exceed current environmental, wildlife and habitat protections;
  • To ensure the UK leads on climate change by publishing robust low carbon investment plans and ratifying the Paris Agreement in 2016;
  • To create a countryside richer in nature by supporting farmers and landowners to deliver environmental benefits alongside a thriving farming sector.

So whilst the White Paper confirms that the “Great Repeal Bill will be used to bring the current framework of environmental regulation into UK and devolved law” it remains to be seen how this will actually work in practice which is why we agree with the call for a new Environment Act. The Wildlife Trusts continue to work hard with our partners in the Greener UK coalition to ensure the environment stays on the agenda whilst the Government negotiates our exit from the European Union.

Further reading:
*FoE and YouGov GB Poll August 2016
The Wildlife Trusts response to the EAC report. 
Government White Paper: The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union