Environmental policy in a devolved United Kingdom: challenges and opportunities after Brexit

Burns, C., Carter, N., Cowell, R., Eckersley, P. ORCID: 0000-0001-9048-8529, Farstad, F., Gravey, V., Jordan, A., Moore, B. and Reid, C., 2018. Environmental policy in a devolved United Kingdom: challenges and opportunities after Brexit. London: UK in a Changing Europe.

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The European Union (EU) has had a profound effect on UK environmental policy and governance. The EU provides treaty-based principles to underpin and inform new policy development and a well-developed system of monitoring and enforcement to ensure it is implemented. The EU’s system of environmental governance provides a set of structures that establishes minimum common standards across the UK. These structures have allowed the devolved nations to develop their own policies, some with a higher level of ambition than the UK’s. EU membership, therefore, provides a common framework that enables both transboundary cooperation and local policy innovation.

Brexit consequently represents a major change to environmental governance in the United Kingdom (UK), raising significant opportunities and challenges. Environmental policy in the UK is devolved, but UK devolution is asymmetrical: England has no formal representation or parliament. For environmental policy this means that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) often acts on behalf of England. This model of devolution raises concerns amongst stakeholders in the devolved nations that Defra approaches policy with an English mind-set, which suggests that English interests will dominate after Brexit. There are also concerns that Brexit will lead to greater instability and weaken environmental protections.

In addition, Brexit has prompted a constitutional dispute between the Scottish and UK governments, which may jeopardise future environmental governance. These tensions have created uncertainty, making Brexit preparations highly challenging for both government and civil society actors. Crucially, the key planks of the UK government’s ‘Green Brexit’ strategy— the 25 Year Environment Plan (25 YEP) and Defra’s consultation on environmental governance and principles—do not cover governance in the devolved nations. This gap in coverage raises the prospect of policy divergence and inconsistent implementation and enforcement across the UK. More importantly, there is a strong fear in Scotland and Wales that their environmental policy ambitions could be thwarted by Brexit and deregulatory pressures emanating from England.

Meanwhile Northern Ireland, which has a history of weak environmental governance and sits alongside the politically sensitive border with Ireland, has no government and therefore no voice in the Brexit negotiations. As a result, it is poorly represented in the discussions over the future shape of UK-wide environmental policy and governance.

Item Type: Research report for external body
Description: Policy brief produced for the Economic and Social Research Council's UK in a Changing Europe programme.
Creators: Burns, C., Carter, N., Cowell, R., Eckersley, P., Farstad, F., Gravey, V., Jordan, A., Moore, B. and Reid, C.
Publisher: UK in a Changing Europe
Place of Publication: London
Date: October 2018
Divisions: Schools > Nottingham Business School
Record created by: Jonathan Gallacher
Date Added: 14 Nov 2018 16:09
Last Modified: 14 Nov 2018 16:10
URI: https://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/34975

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