In a long-awaited speech regarding the plan for Britain’s exit of the European Union, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has confirmed what experts are calling a “hard Brexit” while simultaneously providing next-to-no comfort for Britain’s green economy.
“A little over 6 months ago, the British people voted for change,” UK Prime Minister Theresa May said as she opened her speech setting out the “Plan for Britain” to exit the European Union. The speech has been highly anticipated throughout the UK and the EU, with many waiting to see if the Prime Minister would confirm a “hard Brexit” — described as Britain leaving the EU and exiting the single market, preventing free movement of people across borders, and trading with the EU as it would any other country.
Unfortunately, while many Brexiters had hoped for the “hard Brexit” option, environmental campaigners are concerned that a “hard Brexit” will be bad news for the UK’s environmental policies.
“Whatever position people take on Brexit, it’s a fact that leaving the single market would undermine vital environmental and consumer protections we now take for granted,” said Rosie Rogers, Greenpeace UK’s head of public affairs. “Many of the laws that keep our bathing water clean and control dangerous air pollution and toxic chemicals come from the EU. Without EU laws and courts to underpin and enforce them, they could be left at the mercy of ministers who may ignore them and scrap them with a stroke of the pen.”
“A majority of the UK public voted to leave the EU — they didn’t vote for a more polluted, less green Britain. At a time of such uncertainty, Theresa May should give a firm guarantee that the world-class environmental laws built up over decades will not be swept away by a hard Brexit.”
Further concerning was the nearly complete lack of attention the Prime Minister gave to the environment and clean energy. No mention was made of specific clean energy technologies, nor any mention of environmental policies. The only tea leaves we are able to read is the following:
“So we will also welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research, and technology initiatives.
“From space exploration to clean energy to medical technologies, Britain will remain at the forefront of collective endeavours to better understand, and make better, the world in which we live.”
The lack of information provided by Theresa May in her speech has forced the industry to work hard to find the positives. RenewableUK’s Executive Director Emma Pinchbeck, desperately searching for a silver lining, said: “The Prime Minister has sent a strong signal that Britain is open for business by stating that we’ll be more outward looking than ever before as a global trading nation.”
“The renewable energy market is an international one worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year. As the UK is the global leader in offshore wind as well as wave and tidal energy, we’re well placed to attract investment and to export renewable energy kit to every corner of the world.
“There are huge opportunities in the booming renewables market for us to grow and create British jobs — and the Prime Minister recognises this, as she specifically cited clean energy as one of the innovative, cutting edge sectors in which Britain must remain a leader.”
Dr. Nina Skorupska CBE, Chief Executive at the Renewable Energy Association, similarly took the time to explain how embracing clean energy technology will be good for the UK — regardless of the fact that Theresa May omitted any mention or hint of it in her address.
“The advancement of renewables and clean technology is a global phenomenon and one that the UK has shown leadership on over the past decade. The transition to a low-carbon society is a huge industrial opportunity that is being embraced by many of the other great trading nations, such as Germany, China, India, and the United States. The UK has the opportunity to lead the way in areas such as energy storage, electric vehicles and bioenergy, all of which are sectors in which we have real expertise and have the potential to export globally. The industry needs clarity on the long term vision and government ambition in these areas.”
Dr Skorupska also took the time to highlight the dangers of abandoning the clean energy policies which the UK was beholden to as a member of the EU:
“In the short to medium term, how we leave the EU is fundamental to this sector,” she said. “If we do this badly we will see rising bills for consumers, a deserted industry and threat to keeping the lights on. Energy and the environment are two of the most complex and intertwined areas of UK and EU legislation.”