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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). The UK Government intends to start the process by the end of March 2017. Once started, it could take up to two years to 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.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Government cannot start the Article 50 process without an Act of Parliament.

In response, the Government has introduced the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which is being considered by both Houses of Parliament.

Relationship after the date of withdrawal from the EU

We do not yet know what kind of relationship the UK will have with the EU after withdrawing. This will be decided in the course of negotiations. It is possible that under the terms of withdrawal most EU environmental laws will continue to apply (a 'soft Brexit' in which the UK remains a part of the European Economic Area), or that none continue to apply (a 'hard Brexit').

Domestic Environmental Law After Brexit

The UK government and devolved administrations will need to decide what to do about our existing domestic environmental legislation that implements EU environmental law. Most of our current domestic environmental laws give effect to EU law; and many of them take the form of regulations made under the powers in section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972.

UK position

Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis has stated that the UK government will introduce a Great Repeal Bill in the next Parliamentary Session (2017-18), that 'will mean the European Communities Act ceasing to apply on the day we leave the EU' whilst 'convert[ing] existing EU law into domestic law, wherever practical'. His ministerial statement does not explain how this will be achieved. We expect the Great Repeal Bill to contain detailed provisions dealing with this.

After the date of exit, it will be for the government and Parliament to decide how to change things, whilst respecting the terms of the agreement reached with the EU and continuing to implement international obligations.

The Great Repeal Act will convert existing EU law into domestic law, wherever practical...

That will provide for a calm and orderly exit and give as much certainty as possible to employers, investors, consumers and workers...

...There is over 40 years of European Union law in UK law to consider in all, and some of it simply won’t work on exit. We must act to ensure there is no black hole in our statute book.

Then, it will be for [the House of Commons] to consider the changes to our domestic legislation to reflect the outcome of our negotiation and our exit, subject to international treaties and agreements with other countries and the EU on matters such as trade…

And we will, as Britain always should, abide by our treaty obligations - not tearing up EU law unilaterally, as some have suggested, but ensuring stability and certainty as Britain takes control on the day of exit and not before.

David Davis' ministerial statement of 10 October


The First Minister has 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.

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.

Europe and the Environment, press release of 3 October 2016

EU environment pledge

News Releases







The Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones 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.

Press Articles and New Releases

Brexit: Talks over Wales' farming and agriculture future, 4 July 2016

No post-Brexit farming subsidies guarantee from minister, 20 July 2016

First Minister sets out his vision for post-Brexit Wales, Friday 9 September 2016

Welsh Environment Secretary Holds Talks Over Post-Brexit EU Partnership, September 2016

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.

Press articles and new releases

Arlene Foster: Brexit 'UK's biggest economic opportunity for decades', 29 October 2016

Belfast High Court rejects Brexit challenges, 28 October 2016

McIlveen discusses EU exit with Cabinet Ministers, 1 September 2016

This page was printed from the website of the UK Environmental Law Association at www.ukela.org.
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