Could Brexit lead to environmental harm?


Earlier this year the EU’s Brexit Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier warned of the risk


Michael Barnier, EU Brexit negotiator

of fiscal, social and environmental “dumping” if there is a divergence of standards between the UK and member states. Last week a crossborder conference in Dundalk on the topic of Brexit and the environment was attended a range of delegates including MEPs, NGOs and leading legal experts. As the ‘UK Great Repeal Bill’ looms there was a call at the conference for the existing cross-border cooperation on environmental protection across the island of Ireland not to be “diluted” by Brexit.

 Niall Sargent of the Ireland’s Environmental Pillar ‘Green News’ website compiled a report on the conference, the main points of which are included here. The article points out that the context is that there are currently over 650 pieces of EU legislation in force to protect the environment, habitats, air quality, waste, food safety and a myriad of other areas. They are the principal drivers for the vast majority of environmental protection measures in place in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.



Mairéad McGuiness MEP

Opening the conference, Vice-President of the European Parliament and Irish MEP Mairéad McGuinness emphasised that environmental standards “must not be diluted” by the UK’s exit from Europe. “Brexit poses many challenges but the threat to environmental progress, which the EU has championed, is one of the most significant,” she said and then added, “For Ireland, it is important to have the same high standards north and south of the border and a divergence of standards would be bad for citizens and for business.”



Environmental Pillar Co-ordinator, Michael Ewing said that it was of vital to avoid a hard ‘environmental border’ which would undermine decades of progress in addressing a range of environmental issues. He called for the island of Ireland to be recognised as a “single bio-geographic unit” and for the cross-border dimension of many environmental issues such as water quality, habitat and species loss to be addressed in the context of the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

Northern Irish Environmental Link Chair, Patrick Casement, outlined examples of how both environmental networks in Ireland are currently working on a cross-border basis to protect and enhance the environment, such as the All-Island Pollinator Plan. “The environment knows no border on our small island, and neither do the hundreds of terrestrial and marine species currently at risk of extinction on the island of Ireland.  Any dilution of protection will place these species in further trouble,” he said.” He continued by highlighting the importance of cross-border co-operation to the economy: “All-Island Cooperation on Invasive Alien Species has been, and will be crucial.

Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan also pointed to the potential serious consequences for food


Lynn Boylan MEP

regulation, outlining how Brexit may be “devastating” for Irish farmers “who pride themselves on the quality of the food they produce”. “It is on the island of Ireland’s interests that any deal struck with Britain and the EU protects our food and environmental standards.”

 A more detailed report on the Dundalk conference is available at As the Brexit negotiations will take many months to conclude it will be some time before we will see what impact there will be on environmental standards in the UK and the consequence for Ireland’s environment.

A Letter to Leo on our draft ‘Climate Plan’

A new climate alliance has written to our new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, calling on him to delay implementing the Government’s climate action plan until it includes concrete steps to rapidly cut Ireland’s emissions. The alliance is made up of the Environmental Pillar, Dochas, The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and Stop Climate Chaos.

An extract from the letter says:

the Government is set to consider the first National Mitigation Plan on climate change in ten years, launch a national dialogue on climate change, and give consideration to coordination of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Citizens’ Assembly will also take up the issue of what the state needs to do to make Ireland a leader on climate change in the coming months. This combination of events provides a timely opportunity for a step-change in climate action to secure sustainable jobs, social justice and a healthy future. But grasping that opportunity will require strong and consistent political leadership to promote and facilitate a societal transformation like nothing we have seen before.

It is within this context that we very much welcome the explicit reference in your recent policy plan to furthering Ireland’s climate policy agenda. Indeed, the pathway forward will require consistent political and departmental leadership, robust policy development and implementation, and critical, energetic and constructive engagement with stakeholders and the public. We believe that the necessary open and democratic debate about climate action in Ireland must be led from the top with a clear and unswerving commitment to fulfilling our international obligations, in order to protect Ireland from the catastrophic implications of a failure to deliver on the temperature limits set out in the Paris Agreement.

A copy of the full letter is available at

Events on in July can be found here

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