On the 23rd June 2016, 17,410,742 people in the United Kingdom voted to the leave the European Union. Having been a member since 1975, the UK now needs to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to formally begin the negotiations to leave the EU. As the UK is the first member to invoke Article 50, the withdrawal process is currently untested and so it is expected to take at least two years for everything to be agreed and enacted.
The purpose of this article is to exam whether there will be any changes if any to UK legislation for Environment and Health & Safety now that the UK government has been given this mandate by its citizens.
This decision will have many effects on current and future EHS legislation both in the UK and in the EU. In the short-term, very little will change as the UK will be a member of the EU until negotiations are finalised and therefore will continue to be subject to EU laws and regulations. Additionally, as EU and UK regulations and legislation are intrinsically intertwined it will be hard to see how much it will change post 2018. There are however, a few things that we can be certain about:
- The UK will have less influence in shaping EU law.
- UK and EU legislative priorities will differ.
- Important income streams from the EU e.g. for renewable energy, will be lost with Brexit.
- The UK will regain full control of setting EHS laws and regulations.
- The UK government may revoke or vary EU regulations already in force.
- Once Brexit has officially occurred, the UK parliament will face a substantial legislative review process and will have to decide whether to replace existing laws derived from the EU or retain them.
Health & Safety
The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 predates the UK’s membership of the European Union and is one of the most successful and respected pieces of Health & Safety legislation in the world. In recent years Britain’s Health & Safety system has been tested several times and has generally been found fit for purpose. The UK has the lead on Health & Safety frontier both in Europe and globally so it is unlikely that this system will be jeopardised.
Richard Jones, Head of IOSH’s Policy & Public Affairs has said:
“Now we’re exiting, it’s vital the UK continues to apply our successful risk based Health & Safety system, which includes laws from EU Directives, because it’s been seen to be fit for purpose by several independent reviews and is respected and imitated across the world.”
An influencing factor in how much Health & Safety legislation and regulations will change in the coming years will be dependent on the outcome of negotiations of a EU trade deal as currently 13% of the UK’s GDP is dependent on its trade with the other 27 members. There are two likely scenarios:
- The UK could negotiate an arrangement similar to Norway, where they have access to the European Economic Area (EEA) with continued access to the free market for goods and services.
- The UK could negotiate an arrangement similar to Switzerland, where they would be members of the European free trade association and be allowed to sign bilateral agreements with the Union.
In both scenarios, the outcome for UK Health & Safety legislation and regulations will be the same as Health & Safety laws in Norway and Switzerland are in accordance with the EU Health & Safety standards so it is unlikely that they will change very much in the UK.
The majority of environmental legislation in force in the UK is based on European Communities Act 1972. Unlike with Health & Safety, the UK does not have a strong history with its own environmental legislation. By exiting the Union, the UK government will have more freedom to adjust environmental legislation to a more UK specific regime.
If the UK remains inside the EEA, then the majority of EU environmental legislations will continue to apply with some exceptions, but if the UK completely leaves the EU, the UK exporters will need to comply with EU environmental laws and regulations in order to export into the EU. On the other hand, if the UK chooses to remain within the EEA then the UK will have no input in the formation or amendment of EU policy on the environment. However, many EU environmental regulations that have been enforced in the UK have had positive impacts on the environment such as, stricter air pollution limits, increases in recycling and a limit placed on fracking activities.
In terms of climate change action, the UK has its own legally binding climate change targets set out in the Climate Change Act 2008 and its own carbon reduction schemes in place so this is unlikely to change. However, questions have been raised over the UK’s commitment to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement as the UK is currently partaking under the commitment of the European Union.
Recycling targets, the waste hierarchy and the definition of waste are all derived from EU legislation and policies. As the waste management sector is strong in the UK, it can be assumed that the UK government will not drastically change waste management law. Brexit will lessen the UK’s influence in the EU and important policies like the Circular Economy will be shaped without input from the UK.
As part of the European Union, legislation such as REACH and CLP are directly applicable in the UK, however withdrawal from the Union means that organisations are not legally obliged to adhere to these regulations but it is in the best interest of UK based companies to comply with these regulations as it will:
- Ensure access of UK exports into the Single Market.
- Meet commercial requirements and supply chain obligations.
- Maintain protection from hazards for end-users.
Ultimately, it will be difficult to have vastly different policies in force than the rest of Europe due to proximity and compliance with European standards if the UK is to maintain their trade relationships with the rest of Europe.
Michael Connarty, Former Chair of the UK Parliament’s EU Scrutiny Committee has said:
“ 90% of EU legislation in force in the UK would probably have been introduced even without its obligations as a member.”