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How Brexit Impacts the Environment

Last Updated on May 26, 2023 by Ecologica Life

For now, the UK is still bound to maintain some of the environmental standards set by the EU. This is known as retained EU law. New legislation that came into effect in the EU as of 2021 is no longer enforceable in the UK. This has given the UK a freer reign over their new environmental policies. Has the UK maintained a respectable amount of environmental protection since Brexit or is it falling behind compared with the EU?

Loss of EU Architecture

Since Brexit, the UK has no longer had access to the EU’s enforcement mechanisms. Some claim that judicial review by national courts is insufficient to replace these supranational entities’ role in systematic enforcement.

Additionally, the UK no longer has access to the technical expertise of specialised EU bodies (such as the European Food Safety Authority), which offer impartial scientific counsel and data on environmental matters. At the same time, there are financial and expertise shortages for the UK’s current environmental protection agencies such as the Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

The Brexit Freedoms Bill

The Brexit Freedoms Bill also known as Retained EU Law Bill (REUL) is a prime example of how environmental law is now vulnerable without specialist EU bodies and commission.

Following Brexit, the UK carried over a number of European laws that govern issues including the environment, labour rights, and consumer protection into its domestic law.

This was thereafter referred to as “retained EU law.” The government has so far found 3,800 pieces of such legislation, but ministers are continuing to find more. The government announced its intention to repeal all of these maintained laws in a fairly short period of time in September 2022.

Without proper legislative supervision, ministers might amend, repeal, or replace retained EU law under the REUL Bill. Additionally, any retained law that isn’t properly addressed by the end of 2023 would automatically expire under a “sunset clause”.

The Bill had its first reading in Parliament in September 2022 and its second reading went ahead in October 2022.

Why This Brexit Freedoms Bill Is So Dangerous

The government would not be required by the proposed bill to preserve any retained EU law. The Bill does not outline the criteria that would be used to decide which laws will be kept or repealed. Nor does it allow the public to participate in the decision-making process.

Thus, laws that safeguard species and their habitats as well as restrictions on outdoor air pollution may be repealed in the midst of the UK’s biodiversity crisis.

Regulations managing the purity if the water in rivers and taps could also threatened. Laws governing the safety of food, the use of chemicals, and agricultural pollution could too be at risk.

At the same time, the government has stalled its efforts to establish new goals to take the place of environmental protections after Brexit under the 2021 Environmental Act. The act requires the government to establish new goals for the preservation of the air, water, and biodiversity; however, the deadline was missed in October 2022.

This leaves the UK in a precarious position as a result. With this REUL Bill, the government is risking losing existing protections while delaying the review of new domestic measures.

Unfortunately, the lost protections go beyond the environment. Under REUL, employment rights including the number of working hours, paternity and maternity leave, and equal pay for men and women are at risk. Regulations controlling health and safety as well as consumer rights could also change.


The Bill would provide ministers the discretion and to repeal and replace retained law without proper parliamentary oversight. This raises the chance that less effective regulation might be substituted in its place (if anything is replaced at all).

This outcome looks even more likely in light of the “regulatory burden” clause in the bill. This clause states that any regulation introduced to replace retained EU law cannot increase the regulatory burden. Which means the Bill has deregulation built-in and promotes the risk of removing protections.

Bill Not Fit for Purpose

The bill has been called “not fit for purpose” by the government’s own independent assessor.

“No impacts for changes to individual pieces of REUL have been assessed at this stage. […] We are not assured that the impact of changing or sunsetting each piece of REUL will be calculated or understood under proposals currently in place – particularly where no related legislation is required”

Ecologica.life Opinion

This bill is a prime example of how certain environmental and other legislation is more vulnerable because of Brexit. The EU over many years has developed legislation that protected the rights of people and the environment. The UK government now is proposing to give ministers the power to easily dismantle that without careful consideration of the consequences of such an action. Let us hope for the sake of UK citizens and the environment that this bill gets withdrawn.

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