Theresa May calls on EU to agree to transition period under ‘existing structure of EU rules and regulations’
EU environmental rules and targets would continue to apply in the UK after the country leaves the European Union, under a plan proposed today by Prime Minister Theresa May.
Delivering her much-anticipated Brexit speech in Florence, May confirmed the government was seeking a transition or “implementation” period once the UK formally leaves the EU in March 2018. She said that during the period “access to one another’s markets should continue on current terms”.
May said the period would give the UK and the EU time to put in place mechanisms to support a new trade deal and provide businesses with certainty.
“Clearly people, businesses and public services should only have to plan for one set of changes in the relationship between the UK and the EU,” she said. “So during the implementation period access to one another’s markets should continue on current terms and Britain also should continue to take part in existing security measures. And I know businesses, in particular, would welcome the certainty this would provide.
“The framework for this strictly time-limited period, which can be agreed under Article 50, would be the existing structure of EU rules and regulations.”
She said that currently the need for a range of new structures to support a UK-EU trade deal “point to an implementation period of around two years”, but she failed to put a firm deadline on the new proposed arrangement.
“How long the period is should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin that future partnership,” she said.
The proposal would have significant implications for a raft of environmental policies and targets, and would effectively ensure the UK remains subject to a wide range of EU environmental rules into the early 2020s and potentially beyond.
It could also mean the UK has to adopt new EU rules, such as the upcoming circular economy package, even after it has left the EU and no longer has a place on the European Council.
Specifically, the prospect of the UK remaining subject to EU frameworks beyond 2020 increase the chances of the UK still having to adhere to EU renewable energy targets, energy efficiency targets, and emissions goals, as well as vehicle standards, air quality rules, the EU emissions trading scheme, and the common agricultural policy.
The proposals are likely to be welcomed by businesses, which have warned that without a transition period that face a “cliff edge” change in regulatory systems that could damage investment and jobs.
However, they could face significant political challenges given opposition to EU green rules amongst some high profile Leave campaigners. For example, a transition period could see the UK facing EU fines after it has left the EU for failing to meet renewables targets or breaching air quality standards.
In a speech that adopted notably more conciliatory language than recent exchanges between the UK and EU, May said she wanted to continue to work closely with the bloc post-Brexit on shared challenges, citing climate change as an example.
And she stressed that any new trade deal would build on the UK and EU’s shared commitment to high regulatory standards, including environmental standards.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier yesterday stressed once again that any new trade deal would have to ensure the UK continues to broadly adhere to EU standards, including environmental rules.
“We share a commitment to high regulatory standards,” May said. “People in Britain do not want shoddy goods, shoddy services, a poor environment or exploitative working practices and I can never imagine them thinking those things to be acceptable.
“The government I lead is committed not only to protecting high standards, but strengthening them.”
She also hinted that the UK could continue to remain a signatory to EU environmental and industrial programmes.
“As we move forwards, we will also want to continue working together in ways that promote the long-term economic development of our continent,” she said. “This includes continuing to take part in those specific policies and programmes which are greatly to the UK and the EU’s joint advantage, such as those that promote science, education and culture – and those that promote our mutual security.”
She added that the UK would also make an ongoing contribution to cover its “fair share” of the costs of such programmes.
However, the speech made no mention of a raft of technical issues that concern green businesses, such as whether the UK will remain in the Energy Union, how it plans to exit Euratom, and whether it will remain a member of the European Environment Agency.
Critics also warned that the speech provided little detail on the precise nature of the trade deal the UK is seeking or how it will address long-standing issues such as the implications of a new deal for freedom of movement and the Irish border.
Shaun Spiers, executive director of Green Alliance and chair of the Greener UK coalition, said the speech had made a welcome commitment to “high environmental standards [and] acknowledged the importance of international co-operation for issues such as climate change”.
But he warned the current draft repeal bill still failed to provide sufficient assurances that environmental standards will be adequately maintained post-Brexit.
“On the Brexit process itself, it was good to hear the Prime Minister’s preference for a transition period, as this would provide more time to resolve complex issues such as how the UK and devolved governments will implement environmental law post-Brexit,” he said. “We would expect the transition period to apply to all EU environmental protections, not only those that are trade-related.
“However, we still have serious concerns that the Withdrawal Bill, as currently drafted, allows Ministers to water down hard-won environmental protections. It also omits the overarching principles, such as the polluter pays principle, that underpin environmental law.”