This paper evaluates the possible implications of Brexit for achieving environmental justice in the United Kingdom. It discusses the need for a clear, committed and inclusive approach to environmental governance if the United Kingdom is to maintain and advance recent progress on environmental justice matters post-Brexit.

Several studies have compiled the growing evidence of environmental injustice in, and caused by, the United Kingdom. However, the rise of a robust regional governance approach to stakeholder participation, accountability, non-discrimination and equality, empowerment and legality (the PANEL principles) in the European Union over the last decade has made positive impacts and has provided hope for the future of environmental justice in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has provided commendable opportunities for non-governmental organizations and individuals to access justice on environmental matters whenever justice was inaccessible or unaffordable domestically.

The possible loss of the EU policy “backstop” on environmental justice post-Brexit raises fundamental questions about whether, and how, a stand-alone United Kingdom could guarantee and protect public rights to environmental justice with the same commitment, consistency and vigour as the European Union. Furthermore, loss of the courageous and imaginative jurisprudence of the CJEU on fundamental questions relating to the principles of participation, accountability, non-discrimination and equality, empowerment and legality could stifle environmental justice in the United Kingdom.

Despite these concerns, however, Brexit must not only be discussed in terms of challenges and complexities. As the UK government begins the process of clarifying how the United Kingdom’s environmental law will look post-Brexit, there are significant opportunities to revise and revitalize environmental justice mechanisms in the United Kingdom to become clear, committed and inclusive.

Brexit: The International Legal Implications is a series examining the political, economic, social and legal storm that was unleashed by the United Kingdom’s June 2016 referendum and the government’s response to it. After decades of strengthening European integration and independence, the giving of notice under article 50 of the Treaty on European Union forces the UK government and the European Union to address the complex challenge of unravelling the many threads that bind them, and to chart a new course of separation and autonomy. Brexit necessitates a deep understanding of its international law implications on both sides of the English Channel, in order to chart the stormy seas of negotiating and advancing beyond separation. The paper series features international law practitioners and academics from the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and Europe, explaining the challenges that need to be addressed in the diverse fields of trade, financial services, insolvency, intellectual property, environment and human rights.