Green figures slam growing prospect of no-deal Brexit as 'seriously bad' for environment and COP26 climate summit
The government is threatening to walk away from crunch Brexit talks with the EU unless the two parties can strike a free trade agreement within five weeks, ramping up the prospect of a 'no-deal' exit which green figures this morning branded as a "seriously bad outcome for our environment".
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly set to put an ultimatum to negotiators this week insisting on a 15 October deadline for brokering a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, risking a no-deal cliff-edge for businesses when the transition period ends on 31 December. Business groups are increasingly fearful that the failure to deliver the promised UK-EU trade deal would lead to massive disruption and job losses this winter, as exporters and importers trading with the EU would face immediate tariffs and onerous non-tariff trade barriers from January 1st next year.
Moreover, reports suggest the government is controversially drawing up legislation that could override key parts of the legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement, in a move that risks the ire of EU negotiators and could further undermine the chances of avoiding a no-deal outcome. Number 10 sought to downplay the significance of the move this morning, but not before European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had issued a sharply worded warning that she trusted the British government would "implement the Withdrawal Agreement, an obligation under international law & prerequisite for any future partnership", adding that the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland was "essential to protect peace and stability on the island and integrity of the single market".
Speaking on the morning radio rounds this morning, Environment Secretary George Eustice characterised the government's planned moves - which could change the nature of new Northern Ireland customs agreements aimed at avoiding border checks - as tying up "loose ends" of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Moreover, he claimed that failure to secure a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU would be a "good outcome, in that we will have regained out independence as a country again".
Fraught negotiations to deliver a UK-EU trade deal have more or less stalled this summer, with both parties digging in their heels over various aspects of their future relationship, and the UK government adamant that it will not be tied to EU standards post-Brexit.
There are also outstanding disagreements on fishing rights, which is seen as another major barrier to securing a deal as the UK government looks to regain more control over catch areas and quotas in British waters after Brexit.
As such any move to backtrack on elements of the Withdrawal Agreement is therefore likely to further stoke EU mistrust of the UK's negotiating position, with just five weeks now left to agree a deal which green groups widely view as critical for safeguarding environmental and climate standards.
Louise Haigh, Labour's Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, slammed the PM's threat to renege on the UK's Withdrawal Agreement obligations, warning it "would be an act of immense bad faith".
And Shaun Spiers, executive director of think tank Green Alliance and chair of the Greener UK coalition of NGOs, offered a damning assessment of Eustice's suggestion that a no-deal exit would be a good outcome for the UK.
Writing on Twitter, he said a no-deal Brexit risked "disaster" for UK farming, would spell chaos at ports, and could result in acrimony between the UK and EU that would make the task of delivering a successful COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow next year "much harder". "To be clear, quite aside from the consequences for the economy, this would be seriously bad outcome for our environment," he said.
Spiers further argued the UK was ill-prepared for a no-deal Brexit, which risked further undermining environmental standards in any future trade deals sought with other nations such as the US.
"We do not have independent bodies in any of the four nations capable of upholding environmental law and there would be increased pressure to strike quick trade deals with countries keen to undermine UK environmental standards," he said.
Both the UK & the EU are keen to show leadership on climate & the environment. They should be forging a future environmental partnership & negotiating a deal based on high standards.— Shaun Spiers (@ShaunSpiers1) September 7, 2020
Both sides should tone down the rhetoric & accept that deals always require compromise!
It follows the controversial appointment of Australia's former Prime Minister Tony Abbott as a leading trade advisor for the UK government on Friday, despite widespread concern over his climate sceptic views, which green groups have argued run counter to the objectives of UK trade.
Abbott was among a host of key figures from politics, academia, and industry appointed to the Department for International Trade's new Board of Trade, which is set to meet quarterly to "help Britain make a stronger case for tree trade on an international stage".
Chaired by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, the Board's advisors also include former MEP and prominent Brexit campaigner Daniel Hannon, tech entrepreneur and Starling Bank founder Anne Boden MBE, and Lord Mayor of the City of London William Russell.
However, while Abbott's appointment sparked fierce criticism from environmental groups, other appointees included leading green figures such as chair of the Environment Agency Emma Howard-Boyd and clean energy advocate Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Welcoming her appointment, Howard-Boyd insisted climate and environmental concerns should be top priorities for the Board of Trade.
"Trade is shifting in response to global trends not least climate change," she said. "The PM wants the UK to have the world's most ambitious environmental programme. I'm excited to work with a wide range of experts to ensure trade policy is informed by the UK's ambitions for nature and net zero."
Liebreich, meanwhile, argued it was important to "focus on the issues, not the personalities" in response to questions about Abbott's appointment, but stressed that "climate policy is trade policy".
I am looking forward to serving as an Advisor to the UK Board of Trade at this critical moment in history. We have to revitalise our nation's trading relationships at the same time as staying on track towards net zero greenhouse gas emissions. https://t.co/j3E0hPvVMD— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) September 4, 2020
UK chemicals firm INEOS announces it has made progress incorporating recycled plastics into more challenging applications, as Coca-Cola launches two new recycled plastics commitments in Europe
The new fund, designed in partnership with non-profit The Ocean Foundation, will launch on 30 September after a three-week subscription period
With COP26 fast approaching, the UK needs a credible plan for net zero which brings businesses and the public with it, argues the Institute for Government's Tom Sasse
Trends towards vegan or flexitarian diets only intensified through the coronavirus lockdown, studies suggest