Standards are likely to weaken in every sector of the UK's environment policy after the Brexit, a risk analysis commissioned by Friends of the Earth has found.
The government has promised a green Brexit but the new report — carried out by academics from Sheffield University, Queen’s University Belfast and the University of East Anglia — forewarns of declining protections for water quality, animals and their habitats.
"The international backstop provided by the multilateral environmental agreements into which the UK has entered, invariably offer a lower level of protection and either no or weaker enforcement mechanisms than those provided by the EU," the report warns.
It sought to provide clarity about the potential environmental implications raised by a number of prominent post-Brexit trade models and answer the question: What, if any, are the risks to the environment from the various post-Brexit relationships currently being discussed?
While the British government claims its recently announced 25-year environmental plan would see the country adopt some of the most progressive policies in the world, Friends of the Earth said it "lacks ambition" and won't be enough.
The UK and its post-Brexit sustainability plan is an important issue for the EU. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has insisted on a “non-regression” clause in a future Brexit deal dealing with environmental issues.
Exactly what "green Brexit" meant and the fact that challenges to its delivery "remain underexplored" was one of the driving motivations for the report, according to its authors.
All areas of policy will be affected including wildlife and their habitats, water, climate and energy, maritime protection, among others, the extent to which the area is affected will depend on the agreed departure deal.
The report broke down the level of risk posed to 15 policy sectors in the instance of 5 different Brexit departure scenarios — they ranged from a "Norwegian deal" that would see the UK remain close to the bloc, to a "chaotic no deal".
Nature protection policies, concerning habitats and birds, were judged to be especially vulnerable as they are at a very high risk under all possible Brexit scenarios.
Similarly, agri-environment, food and welfare standards and fisheries and marine protection saw a high or very high-risk result in all eventualities bar one.
Ozone and related substances was the least-threatened area, with moderate risk in all but the Norwegian option, where it saw a low-risk threat.
Friends of the Earth campaigned for the UK government to set up an environment watchdog, which is yet to be put in place.
“We were promised that Brexit wouldn’t harm our environment — but this analysis shows that under all scenarios currently on the table, this promise will be broken," Kierra Box, the organisation's Brexit campaign lead, said.
Friends of the Earth hoped the report would spur parliament to make "much-needed changes" to the Withdrawal Bill, which is currently in the process of going through parliament.