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The consequences of Brexit for the environment and environmental laws barely featured in pre-referendum campaigning. Given that a great deal of UK environmental law emanates from Brussels, a lot of recent commentary has warned of impending uncertainty and/or weakening of key environmental standards and protections. In this in depth article, we explain why we expect change to be a much more limited and gradual process than many have suggested by reference to specific areas of environmental law, with some areas more prone to change than others, as illustrated in the diagram below.

Authors: Adam Hedley


In our view, each of the many disparate areas of modern UK environmental law will be affected differently (or in the short to medium term perhaps not at all) depending not just on the nature of Britain’s exit (EEA membership or other model), but on a complex range of factors such as:

  • The history and origin of the relevant law in question (for example, whether it derives from an EU regulation, directive, international treaty, etc. and whether the UK’s policy pre-dates EU legislation in the area).
  • How it has been implemented into domestic law (for example, under the European Communities Act 1972 or some other enabling legislation).
  • Whether it is an area of European law in which the UK has a history of resistance to compliance.
  • Whether it is an area that is directly relevant to access to the single market (for example, products regulation).
  • The relationship between the environmental laws in question and wider policy objectives (for example, between air quality or renewables laws on the one hand and energy security on the other).
  • The political sensitivity of the law’s subject matter.

We address and give examples of how each of these factors may play out below.

Brexit - Potential Implications for Environmental Law 

Even less attention has been paid in commentary to the impact of Britain’s exit on the future direction of European environmental law and policy and we will touch on this as well.

Finally, there is also an almost universal but erroneous tendency to talk about UK environmental law as if it were a single body of law. This is to ignore the potential for future divergence of approach among Britain’s various devolved administrations, as also discussed below.