Today, British citizens will vote on Brexit, whether remaining in the European Union or not. Therefore, they are also about to express their opinion on whether the United Kingdom will have to accept the European environmental rules, including energy efficiency.
What is about to change?
Nothing will change in the short term. This is just an advisory referendum and the British Parliament has no legal duty, although ignoring the voice of the voters would be a suicide for Cameron.
Nevertheless, it must be said that every directive already implemented under English and Scottish law would remain applicable even in the event of Brexit, but then the Parliament could change them.
In case yes wins, the British Government will have to bargain again with the European Institution all treaties that the UK had previously signed and to establish the conditions of exit from the European Union.
Members of the British Parliament should be careful not to damage exports to the EU by changing the rules. The United Kingdom may maintain its position in the domestic market, remaining a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), with a status similar to that of Norway or Iceland.
Remaining in the EEA would maintain many of the environmental laws. Greenpeace said there is the possible risk that all positive measures might be discarded, while the worst one maintained.
The bargaining could take two years of work. In this period, the United Kingdom will still be a member of the European Union but could not have its say on any new regulations.
Members of Parliament favourable to Brexit argue that, once free from the EU, the Parliament could make laws specifically conceived for Great Britain. Since one of the four clauses negotiated by David Cameron is against the complexity of European bureaucracy, European standards may be replaced by an environmental deregulation.
A close link between Brexit and the Environment
On the one hand there are, of course, commercial interests. On the other, environmental regulations must be taken into account because, in case the UK voted in favour of leaving, the British would be at the crossroads in terms of environment.
The first option would be a renegotiation with the European Union, the so-called “Norwegian option”. In this case, the UK would most contribute to the European Union budget, while observing directives such as the Habitats Directive, the Birds Directive and the Bathing water Directive. The British Environment Agency would not change particularly. In order to gain access to the European market, the Britons should still respect the quality standards imposed by the EU. But this perspective seems more and more unlikely.
An alternative more prevalent among proponents of Brexit would be to establish trade agreements with emerging countries as provided by the regulations of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Britain would renounce to parts of the European market and to the obligations imposed by Brussels. Negotiations with the US on TTIP could become a direct agreement between the US and the UK, in which the British should consent to reduce its standards in environmental matters.
For some, European environmental standards are too severe and the precautionary principle into the EU treaties slows down Europe when adopting new technologies that could damage the nature.
According to a report written by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), the EU has the most developed comprehensive and influential legal system on the environment worldwide. It established a shared approach on many environmental issues. The European legal system has helped stop air and water pollution, protect endangered species and impose strong barriers on the use of genetically modified crops and chemical fertilizers.
As a result, environmental standards have risen across Europe, with an impact on the rest of the world, especially in countries exporting to the EU. United Kingdom‘s exit from the EU would lower its reference standards. The EU will be also affected negatively because, over the last 40 years, the United Kingdom has helped a lot the development of EU legislation by suggesting policies with regard to environmental quality.
For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that air quality in many British cities is below required standards. The situation would be even worse if the European regulations have not continually prodded British Governments for not having made significant progress in this area. Indeed, the British Supreme Court intervened to force the Government to conceive an action plan to meet European standards.
The European directive on renewable energy contributed to the rapid English industrial growth in recent years.
The common agricultural policy has been accused of favouring large farms and to maximise food production at the expense of the environment, although many environmental schemes have been developed in recent years. But there is still a long way to go before achieving a well conceived environmental policy.