With Brexit negotiations due to begin on Monday in Brussels, there is a need to understand that environmental progress made by the EU over decades cannot be jeopardised by the UK decision to leave the EU, said Mairead McGuinness, MEP and first vice-president of the European Parliament. Ms McGuinness was addressing a Brexit event organised by the European Parliament in Dundalk today (Friday, June 16).
Today, 28 countries agree on and work towards implementing common standards on many environmental issues, from water and air quality to waste management and food quality and safety standards, she said.
"For the island of Ireland, it would be disastrous if there was a divergence of standards post Brexit.
"The UK talk about the Great Repeal Bill which would simply transpose EU directives and regulations into UK law.
"So, in the immediate aftermath of Brexit, there might be no change. The danger lies in the monitoring of implementation – a job done for the EU by the Commission – and the question of whether or not the UK authorities would adhere to the standards,” she said.
She also said there are concerns for the future and uncertainty about whether or not the UK would amend its laws in line with any updating of environmental laws by the EU in the future.
“For the island of Ireland it would not be very desirable to have divergent standards in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
“The appointment of Michael Gove as the new UK environment minister does little to allay fears for environmental progress.”
She said Mr Gove was a strong supporter of Brexit and was in favour of cutting what he termed ‘EU red tape’.
Part of the EU red tape is environmental law in a wide range of areas, said Ms McGuinness, a member of the European Parliament’s environment committee.
“The UK, like Ireland, was involved in the making of these laws. Regrettably, Mr Gove criticised one of the EU's main conservation laws, the Habitats Directive, on the grounds that it impeded economic development.
“What he failed to acknowledge is that protecting the environment can lead to economic growth and be a catalyst for greater innovation. And that protecting the environment is key to a more sustainable world.
“Loss of biodiversity, pollution of our rivers and air can be costly to correct and can sometimes be irreversible,” she said. “And when it comes to food safety standards and traceability of food, again the EU has led the way.
“Maintaining EU environmental standards North and South provides regulatory certainty for business and a way has to be found to make sure there is no diluting of standards in the UK,” Ms McGuinness said.