The terms of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union remain vague and fluid at the time of writing. However, it is clear that the prospect has given rise to concern as to the future shape and effectiveness of environmental law following Brexit. EU environmental law, as it has evolved and expanded since the early 1970s, has exerted a profound influence over the law of the United Kingdom, and has in many areas resulted in entrenched environmental problems being tackled and environmental standards being improved.

As discussed in this paper, it would be naive to suggest that the United Kingdom will abandon the existing body of EU environmental law; indeed, under the terms of the proposed legislation on exit, it will be preserved. However, there will be some serious and complex issues to be resolved because much of the law is predicated upon the involvement of EU institutions. There will also be difficult issues relating to international relations, both in respect of treaties to which the United Kingdom is a party in its capacity as an EU member state, and in respect of the implications of any future bilateral trade arrangements for environmental regulation.

Further, EU law has provided both political and legal accountability to successive UK governments, and a means for concerned or affected citizens to obtain redress, either by way of complaint to the European Commission, or by legal challenges in the courts. There will need to be effective replacement mechanisms if the environment is to be properly protected. How these issues are worked out will be an important task for environmental lawyers over the next decade. 

Thematics
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.