The ‘ins’ and the ‘outs’

7th March 2016

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  • Politics & Economics ,
  • England ,
  • EU


Vic Duddy

Does the EU referendum result really matter?

With the date of the UK’s EU referendum set for 23 June, I think it is fair to predict that we will be bombarded with information from the ‘in’ and ‘out’ camps over the next few months. We will hear a lot about the benefits of the respective positions, and obviously everyone will have a view on whether their working and family lives will be better in or out of the EU.

But, in the end, will the result actually matter? The run-up to the Brexit poll presents an opportunity to observe how the environment and sustainability could be affected by the vote. If Britain stays, it will be business as usual. If it leaves, could we see big shifts in the way we work?

Legislation is a central driver for the environment profession, with various international agreements, national regulations and regional policies affecting the broadest and narrowest streams of environmental management and assessment. Members working in Europe are affected by legislation set by Brussels, so any shake-up could have a significant knock-on effect.

Changes to the EIA directive are one example. Consultations are due to start this year on amending UK regulations to bring the revised directive into force by next spring. If the UK leaves the EU, will this crucial evolution of a major piece of legislation still take place? That’s an open-ended question right now, and is just one of potentially thousands. So, although the questions remain unanswered for now, we can – as a profession – only do our best work for our own organisations and influence where we can.

Although potential Brexit could, in the short term, cause confusion, longer term I wonder whether it would really matter. The COP21 agreement will still stand and the UK would have too much to lose to renege on any commitments. What we need to remember is that our profession (and our network) is one of the few that takes a truly global perspective. After all, IEMA has members in more than 100 countries, so innovations made in Oman, Canada or Hong Kong, for example, influence practice as much as any EU directive. Legislation really is the lowest common denominator and many of the most impactful environment and sustainability innovations are driven by practice in businesses, not politics in Brussels.

Regardless of whether the UK electorate votes to stay or leave the EU, the result will serve as a reminder that legislation is important to our profession. But, as the experts, I think we should always aim to outperform what is in the law books, regardless of where the rules are written.


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