Brexit and the environment: the UK legislatures’ preparations for leaving the EU- Part 2

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As we enter 2017, with the anticipation of the start of Brexit negotiations, this blog post gives a flavour of the various UK legislatures’ inquiries which explore environmental implications of Brexit. Here, we signpost to several committee inquiries with focus on both environmental and devolved issues. Due to the breadth of work being carried out across the UK, this is by no means an exhaustive list.

Yesterday (23 January) we looked at the National Assembly for Wales and the UK Parliament. Today we will look at the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.

Northern Ireland Assembly

None of the Northern Ireland Assembly Committees are either currently undertaking, or planning to undertake, formal inquiries into Brexit and the associated impacts on Northern Ireland. However there have been various pieces of work carried out as detailed below.

The Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee

Shortly after the EU Referendum, on 30 June 2016, the Committee held an evidence session with several witnesses on ‘Brexit and Strategic Priorities’. It heard from the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association and the Ulster Farmers’ Union (PDF 187KB). During the session the Ulster Farmers’ Union highlighted the dependency of Northern Ireland agriculture on the direct payment support it receives from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP):

The number-one item on the agenda for any of our farmers is the continuation of direct support…. last year, 87% of farm income was made up of direct support….

When we consider how many jobs are linked to the agrifood industry, it is critical that we as unions and you as politicians fight our corner very hard to ensure that we get a fair share of the money, whatever it might be.

The Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association stated concerns regarding potential time lags in environmental and capital grant scheme applications due to Brexit negotiations. Another panel in the session comprised Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network, Rural Community Network and Rural Development Council (PDF 179KB) and focused on the implications of Brexit on rural development. Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network, highlighted the value of EU rural development funding and called for the current funding level to be ring-fenced and protected for the duration of the Rural Development Programme.

In the third part of the session, Members heard from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (PDF 290KB). They discussed amongst other things, Northern Ireland Executive commitments for RDP funding, agricultural markets and trade.

The Committee commissioned the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Research and Information Service to prepare several research publications. They identify potential questions to consider on the impacts of Brexit on agriculture, fisheries, environmental and rural affairs in Northern Ireland. For example:

Scottish Parliament

Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee

The Committee is undertaking an inquiry: the EU Referendum and its implications for Scotland. The Committee has commissioned several research papers on the implications of EU withdrawal for the devolution settlement. A paper by Professor Alan Page (PDF 2.34MB) explores potential divergences between the UK countries in environmental policy stating that:

…In the latter three areas [agriculture, fisheries and the environment], the prospect is said to be one of increasing policy and legislative divergence between the nations and regions of the UK in the absence of a common EU framework, although the extent of international obligations has led some observers to question how much scope there would be for change in the environmental field (Environmental Audit Committee, EU and UK Environmental Policy HC (2015-16) 537). It may be therefore that adjustments will be made to the devolution settlement in order to prevent such divergences emerging. Any such adjustments would require the consent of the Scottish Parliament and would thus be a matter for agreement between the two governments.

Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee

The Environment Committee has exchanged several letters on the implications of Brexit;

The Committee is planning on holding some one-off sessions on the environmental implications of Brexit.

The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee is also planning some one-off sessions on the implications of Brexit.

The Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee is also looking at the Economic Impact of Leaving the European Union.

Article by Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service.