Brexit would damage UK environment, experts warn

27th January 2016

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  • Management ,
  • Natural resources



Leaving the EU could halt or even reverse the UK's progress on protecting the environment, experts have warned environment secretary Liz Truss in an open letter.

The 14 signatories include Baroness Young, former chief executive of the Environment Agency, and two of the regulator’s former chairs, Lord Chris Smith and Sir John Harman. Others have held senior posts at the Royal Commission on Environment and Pollution, Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

European policy has been hugely positive on the quality of Britain’s beaches, water, air and many rare plants, animal species and habitats, the letter states.

However, if the UK leaves the EU, it is very unclear which elements of existing European policy would continue to apply, they warn: ‘The environmental rules of engagement with the EU after Brexit are very uncertain and would be subject to lengthy and protracted negotiation due to our new status as an outsider.

‘We would no longer be able to shape EU policy and our influence on the environmental performance of other member states would decline very sharply once we were no longer at the negotiating table.’

Young said: ‘Environmental quality, clean air, healthy oceans and rich natural resources can only be secured by collaboration across national boundaries and common EU standards promote new technologies and businesses. Brexit would halt and even reverse four decades of progress.’

Professor Sir John Lawton, previously chair of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and a former chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council, said: ‘UK politics has a tendency to be short term and see the natural environment as an impediment to economic growth, and EU agreements help mitigate this by encouraging us to be more long term in our public policy.’

The UK will be better able to protect the quality of its environment if it stays in Europe, the letter concludes.

The full list of signatories is:

  • Professor Bill Adams, professor of conservation and development, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Andrew Balmford, professor of conservation science, University of Cambridge
  • Dr Andy Brown, former chief executive, English Nature
  • Poul Christiensen CBE, former chair, Natural England
  • Professor Paul Ekins OBE, professor of resources and environmental policy, University College London
  • Nigel Haigh OBE, former chair of Green Alliance and former director, the Institute for European Environmental Policy
  • Sir John Harman, former chair, Environment Agency, and founding director, Aldersgate Group
  • Professor Sir John Lawton CBE FRS, former chair of the Royal Commission on Environment and Pollution, former chief executive, Natural Environment Research Council
  • Adrian Phillips, former chief executive, Countryside Commission, former Chair, IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas
  • Dr Helen Phillips, former chief executive, Natural England
  • Dame Fiona Reynolds, chair Green Alliance, former director general, National Trust,
  • Lord Chris Smith, former chair, Environment Agency
  • Sir Graham Wynne, deputy chair, Green Alliance, former chief executive, RSPB
  • Baroness Young of Old Scone, former chief executive, Environment Agency and the RSPB


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