No deal Brexit ‘devastating’ for the Irish environment


March 14th, 2019

The prospect
of the UK leaving the EU in a no-deal scenario poses a significant risk to the
environment on the island of Ireland. Because this is the shared and common
space for all communities on the island, every effort should be made to counter
any threat posed to it.

At present
there is a common legislative framework on the island known as the EU’s
Acquis Communautaire
. If the UK leaves the EU on 29 March without a deal, it would no
longer be subject to the environmental elements of this framework.

Northern farmers
may feel the pressure to disregard or dilute regulations in order compete with
cheaper imports from outside the EU. Then any dilution north of the border
could cause corresponding pressure for dilution south of it.

At present
the European Environmental Agency, the European Commission and the European
Court of Justice provide oversight and enforcement of EU environmental laws. A
no-deal Brexit would mean the UK would no longer be subject to any of these

This would be
even worse on the island of Ireland as there is no domestic agency in Northern
Ireland (unlike in England, Scotland and Wales), and no local government to put
one in place. This lack of a controlling authority could mean an inability to
prevent runaway cross-border pollution.

There are several shared protected nature sites (Natura 2000) that are co-managed on the island. These sites are protected by the Birds and Habitats Directives and the Water Framework Directive.

Roseate Tern Photo: Brian Burke

In a no-deal scenario, these sites could be severely undermined without a clear way to continue the protection and monitoring. This highlights that protection of endangered species like the roseate tern or whopper swan would also be threatened.

These are
only some of the environmental risks posed by a no-deal Brexit. There are a
great many more that can be foreseen, but many more it may be hard to predict.
While the Good Friday Agreement includes the environment as an area of
co-operation with defined mechanism for doing this, it remains untested.

In the
short-term the risks outlined here are best avoided by the EU and UK avoiding a
no-deal Brexit, but in doing so ensuring that the commitments to the
environment included in the Withdrawal Agreement, like the level playing field,
are not in any way jeopardised.

Similarly, in the Political Declaration the EU should insist on future
alignment by the UK to standards beyond the end of the transition period in
order to ensure a long-term level playing field. The UK should continue participation
in the network of Natura 2000 sites, not least to prevent any unnecessary
threat to shared cross-border sites on the island of Ireland.

And in the meantime, in anticipation of a no-deal Brexit, the Irish government should not consider by-passing the existing environmental regulations and threaten the very thing we are seeking to defend, the island of Ireland and its communities.

By Mike Walker

Mike is a campaign consultant with over 15 years’ experience working with civil society groups. He has contributed to the #NatureAlert campaign to protect the EU’s Birds & Habitat Directives and is currently advising the Environmental Pillar on Brexit matters.

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