Brexit in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland


The UK's relationship with the EU

Between now and the date UK formally withdraws

The UK will remain a full member of the European Union until it completes the process of withdrawal under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (also known as the Lisbon Treaty). This process was started by letter of29 March 2017 to European Council President Donald Tusk.

The UK is scheduled to withdraw formally by 31 October 2019 at which point the Article 50 procedure will be complete.

Until the Article 50 process is completed, the UK will remain bound by EU law. Governments, regulators and courts across the UK will be required to continue to enforce our domestic laws and measures that implement European environmental law.

Relationship after the date of withdrawal from the EU

The exact nature of the future relationship between the UK and the EU will be decided in the course of negotiations.

The UK Government has indicated that it intends to leave not only the EU, but also the single market. In broad terms, in the future the UK will no longer be bound to give effect to EU environmental laws, and there will be an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

For more information about the UK's negotiating objectives read Prime Minister Theresa May's statement to the House of Commons ontriggering Article 50 (March 2017).

Domestic Environmental Law After Brexit

UK position

The UK Government intends that, so far as possible, the same rules and laws will apply on Exit Day as applied the day before. This will be achieved principally through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 which, amongst other things:

  • preserves all 'EU-derived domestic legislation', such as the many statutory instruments that implement EU environmental directives (section 2)
  • incorporates 'direct EU legislation' such as EU environmental regulations into our domestic law (section 3)

Some changes will need to be made to domestic legislation so that it continues to operate effectively. For example, some domestic Acts of Parliament and statutory instruments include references to 'the UK's obligations' under EU environmental directives. Those references will not make sense after Brexit, when the UK stops being bound by EU directives. Some domestic legislation refers to functions carried out by the European Commission, for example to consider derogations. Those references will either need to be removed, or changed so that the Commission's role can be carried out by a domestic body after Brexit. Clause 7 of Withdrawal Bill ('dealing with deficiencies arising from withdrawal') allows regulations to be made to make these changes.

This approach in theory should provide stability and certainty for those affected by environmental law. A UKELA report considers the extent to which primary legislation will need to be amended to correct 'deficiencies'. A range of other UKELA reports look at other key Brexit-related issues for UK environmental law, such as how to ensure it is properly enforced once the Commission ceases to have a role, and how to approach setting standards in the future. For more information, visit UKELA's work on Brexit.


On 20 December 2016 the First Minister published proposals to keep Scotland in the European Single Market, retain freedom of movement, and to equip the Scottish Parliament with powers to serve Scotland's interests post-Brexit. Read our response to the consultation on Environmental Principles andGovernance.

Scotland’s Place in Europe, 20 December 2016

As stated by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, there are no plans to amend or revoke any environmental legislation as a result of the EU referendum. Similarly, the Scottish Government has no plans to alter its domestic policies and priorities on the environment, such as delivery of climate change targets, as a result of the referendum. See the following press release from Scottish Government for further information.


The Welsh Government has made clear it is Wales' priority that UK should retain access to the single market (a 'soft Brexit'). The Cabinet Secretary for the Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths has indicated that the Welsh Government will be looking at how to develop Welsh-specific policies that build upon EU environmental policies and legislation concerning the environment, health, farming and fisheries so as to meet Welsh needs.

The future of farming policy (and its implications for the environment) is a particularly important issue in Wales, which has access to considerable EU funding. UK minister George Eustace has said he cannot guarantee that future agricultural support programmes will be as generous as current EU subsidies. Any future Welsh agriculture policy will have to sit within a UK wide framework. Read our response to the consultation on Environmental Principles and Governance.

Northern Ireland

First Minister Arlene Foster has indicated she has "no time for those who want to re-fight the referendum", and that the government should be looking forward to the opportunities Brexit presents. This follows a High Court ruling that rejected a claim that the Good Friday Agreement prevented the government from triggering the Article 50 Brexit process. Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Michelle McIlveen has stated that Northern Ireland must be closely and directly involved in UK's domestic agricultural, environmental and fisheries policy and trade agendas as they unfold in order to maximise the opportunities that will come with Brexit.

Northern Ireland will need to decide how to regulate on cross-border environmental matters, in the event of a hard Brexit where European laws only continue to apply in the Republic of Ireland. Key issues include transfrontier shipments of waste, pollution of cross-border water bodies, and environmental impact assessment of developments.