Brexit and International Environmental Law

Brexit: The International Legal Implications, Paper No. 8

January 4, 2018

International environmental law is likely to assume increasing significance for the United Kingdom after Brexit. This paper considers the potential impact and importance raised by a number of key legal issues. The first section asks which international agreements will bind the United Kingdom after Brexit and what the extent of these obligations will be. Since the European Union has been party to many of these agreements, the legal position post-Brexit is not necessarily obvious. The next section considers how existing EU environmental law currently implements international environmental agreements, the implications this relationship may have for national environmental law going forward, and whether reliance on international environmental obligations will provide an equivalence in legal substance after Brexit. Finally, the question of compliance and enforcement is considered. The European Union has developed sophisticated mechanisms for the enforcement of EU obligations against member states, including those arising from international agreements, and it is questionable whether these will be replicated post-Brexit in relation to international agreements to which the United Kingdom is a party.

Part of Series

Brexit: The International Legal Implications

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.

About the Authors

Richard Macrory is a barrister at Brick Court Chambers in London and emeritus professor of environmental law at University College London (UCL), where he set up and was the first director of the Centre for Law and the Environment.

Joe Newbigin is a Brexit researcher at the UK Environmental Law Association. He qualified as a barrister after completing pupillage at Francis Taylor Building, where he specialized in environmental and planning law. He has previously worked for Richard Buxton Environmental & Public Law and serves on the advisory board for Public Interest Environmental Law in the United Kingdom.