Brexit “challenge” to politicians over UK environmental laws

Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have expressed “shock and concern” at the outcome of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.

The not-for-profit organisation – which has offices in London, Brussels and Warsaw – regularly uses EU laws to challenge governments across Europe on a wide range of issues, including air quality, nature, wildlife, toxics and transparency.

CEO James Thornton said: “Voters have made their views known on Britain’s future out of Europe. We respect that democratic decision of course, but it leaves me shocked, disappointed and extremely concerned about the future of environmental protections in the UK.

“Today, therefore I challenge politicians of all parties to affirm their commitment to strong UK environmental laws and to guarantee united action on climate change, despite our upcoming exit from the EU.

“Many of the laws which my organisation uses to ensure that nature and health are protected in Britain were drawn up with the UK’s agreement in Brussels.

Call for politicians to maintain protections

“Now as the UK prepares to go it alone, we have no idea which laws will be retained since those who campaigned for Brexit did not have a united position. They failed to make clear during the campaign which environmental laws would be kept. We therefore call upon all parties to promise to maintain existing protections.”

ClientEarth campaigned against Britain leaving the EU because of the impact it would have on the environment and because of the importance of united action on issues such as pollution and climate change, which do not respect international borders.

Brexit means that air quality laws, with which the UK has failed to comply, could be weakened or scrapped.

ClientEarth won its case at the Supreme Court last year when ministers were ordered to draw up new anti-pollution plans to ensure compliance with EU laws. A renewed challenge on that is due to be heard at the High Court in October.

Weak laws would be a catastrophe

Vital birds and habitats directives, bathing water and waste water regulations could also be scrapped or weakened.

James Thornton added: “We will consider what changes we need to make as an organisation, but London is our international headquarters.

“We will use the months and years ahead to urge the UK government to live up to the EU laws which are currently on the statute books. Anything which weakens those laws would be a catastrophe for Britain’s environment.”

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