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After almost two years of negotiations, an agreement on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and on the framework for the future EU-UK relationship, has been reached. Green NGOs welcome the commitments in the deal that environmental standards will not be reduced as a result of Brexit.  

Under the Withdrawal Agreement, both the UK and the EU have committed to ensuring that the level of environmental protection as provided for by existing “law, regulations, and practices” will not be lowered after the UK leaves the EU. Importantly, both parties have also pledged, in the accompanying Political Declaration, to build on these commitments in the negotiations on their long-term future relationship, which will begin after March next year.

On Sunday, EU27 leaders further emphasized the importance of maintaining “ambitious level playing field conditions…in particular in the field of environment” when it comes to these future negotiations. Green NGOs welcome this commitment which will be essential in order to avoid any future undercutting of the EU’s environmental standards.

The UK Parliament and the European Parliament are expected to vote on the proposed deal in December and January respectively.

Ariel Brunner, Senior Head of Policy, BirdLife Europe said: “The global environmental crisis doesn’t stop at national borders, so continued alignment of standards and close EU-UK cooperation will be essential to achieve climate, sustainable development and nature protection goals.”

Now it is critical that the UK puts in place robust new domestic arrangements for environmental monitoring, reporting, oversight and enforcement to ensure that its commitments under the Withdrawal Agreement are fully complied with in practice.

“Failure by the UK to create a truly effective and independent domestic watchdog for ensuring compliance with environmental standards would lead to an erosion of environmental protections, undermining the achievement of EU and global nature targets,” said Brunner.

Jeremy Wates, Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau, said: “We would have preferred to see stronger language linking the level of future UK access to the EU single market to the UK’s alignment with EU laws protecting the environment as they evolve in the future. However, the various references to the importance of ensuring a level playing field provide some measure of reassurance that the UK will not be able to gain a competitive advantage by undercutting future EU environmental standards.”

Green NGOs now call on the UK and the EU to ensure continued progress on environmental ambition in the next phase of negotiations, fully in line with EU policies, and will be following the process closely.

N.B. This generally positive assessment of the environmental content of the deal should not in any way be understood as implying that pursuing Brexit according to the deal would be better for the environment than the UK remaining in the EU.