• Lucy Tredoux

Brexit and the Environment

In the past year, a lack of lorry drivers has led to shortages of food, carbon dioxide and most recently fuel [1-3]. The Coronavirus pandemic has been blamed for slowing the training of new drivers, however it is believed that Brexit is responsible [2]. By leaving the EU, we have made it difficult for EU citizens to work in the UK and to be hired by a UK firm, which is having a dramatic impact on important services [1]. As the effects of Brexit are becoming increasingly apparent, it may be worth wondering in which ways our natural environment may be affected.

UK environmental policies and regulations have had important links to the EU for decades. For example, it wasn't until 1980 that clear standards for safe drinking water were set in the UK because they were outlined by the EU [4]. Standards for water quality are still set out by the EU's Water Framework Directive, but will be fully transposed into UK law [5-6]. However, the same cannot be said for the use of harmful pesticides. In 2013 the EU banned 3 neonicotinoid pesticides that were voted harmful to honey bees, however in January the UK planned to temporarily lift this ban [7-8]. Could this be a sign of what we expect to see with other environmental policies?

It is thought that by scrapping farming subsidies, agriculture may become the sector worst affected by Brexit [7]. Currently, UK farmers receive £3.4 billion in subsidies each year, which can make up anywhere between 40-90% of farmers' income [9]. It is therefore feared that Brexit could put the livelihoods of many British farmers at risk [7-9]. The new agricultural policies that will be put in place are promised to make more room for wild spaces such as meadows and wetlands, however the British Farmers Union has already convinced the government to be less stringent on environmental policies [4,7,9]. The lack of an objective regulatory body could therefore dilute the sustainability efforts of the new policies.

The rights to fishing grounds have been a hotly debated aspect of the Brexit vote. By leaving the EU, UK fishers have extended the distance that French vessels can fish, from 3 miles to 6-12 miles off the British coast [10]. However, this does not ensure a greater catch, nor does it improve the sustainability of fishing efforts. Now that we have left the EU, UK fishers have been promised an additional £145 million of the annual catch quota [11], but with ever decreasing fish stocks, how can a promise like this be upheld?

The European Union is responsible for implementing and upholding many of the environmental policies that have been in place in the UK for many years. By leaving the EU, we have removed the policies enforcing the protection of our natural world and the lack of an impartial regulatory body could spell disaster. Brexit is likely to impact all aspects of the environment, working against the UK people and the improvements they were promised.


1. the Guardian. 2021. The cause of our food and petrol shortages is Brexit – yet no one dares name it | Jonathan Freedland. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/24/food-petrol-shortages-brexit-goods-johnson-botched-deal> [Accessed 14 November 2021].

2. The Independent. 2021. Brexit has been a ‘factor’ in fuel crisis, Grant Shapps admits. [online] Available at: <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-petrol-shortage-grant-shapps-b1928368.html> [Accessed 14 November 2021].

3. Boyle, E., 2021. 'Britain suffering from loss of reality' Germans mock UK and blame Brexit for petrol chaos. [online] Express.co.uk. Available at: <https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1501545/Brexit-news-Germany-germans-mock-uk-petrol-shortage> [Accessed 14 November 2021].

4. LifeGate. 2021. Brexit and environment, risks and opportunities for the UK in an uncertain climate - LifeGate. [online] Available at: <https://www.lifegate.com/brexit-environment-risks-opportunities> [Accessed 14 November 2021].

5. Brexit & Environment. 2021. Brexit and water law: Implications for the UK and Scotland - Brexit & Environment. [online] Available at: <https://www.brexitenvironment.co.uk/2018/09/20/brexit-and-water-law-implications-for-the-uk-and-scotland/> [Accessed 14 November 2021].

6. Ciwem.org. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.ciwem.org/assets/pdf/Events/Past%20Presentations/Central%20Southern/Wendy%20Furgusson.pdf> [Accessed 14 November 2021].

7. The Ecologist. 2021. Legal challenge to neonicotinoids. [online] Available at: <https://theecologist.org/2021/jan/28/legal-challenge-neonicotinoids> [Accessed 14 November 2021].

8. Sustaineurope.com. 2021. The environmental impact of Brexit. [online] Available at: <https://sustaineurope.com/the-environmental-impact-of-brexit.html> [Accessed 14 November 2021].

9. SURGE. 2021. UK farming subsidies and Brexit explained. [online] Available at: <https://www.surgeactivism.org/articles/uk-farming-subsidies-and-brexit-explained> [Accessed 14 November 2021].

10. the Guardian. 2021. Brexit fishing rights: what is row about and what happens next?. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/oct/28/brexit-fishing-rights-row-what-is-the-dispute-about-and-what-happens-next> [Accessed 14 November 2021].

11. BBC News. 2021. Brexit: Why is there a row over fishing rights?. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/46401558> [Accessed 14 November 2021].

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