Brexit: NGO coalition calls on Barnier to stress need for cross-border environmental solution

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n environmental coalition has called on Michel Barnier to stress the need for a solution to the border issue that maintains full alignment of environmental rules on the island of Ireland post-Brexit.

The EU’s top Brexit negotiator will be in Ireland next week to give a keynote address at the fourth plenary meeting of the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit.

In a letter sent to Mr Barnier this week, the Environmental Pillar states that it welcomes Mr Barnier’s speech at the Green 10 event in the European Parliament earlier this month.

At the event, the former French Environment Minister said that the post-Brexit relationship between the UK and the EU must include “precise provisions on a level playing field” in environmental matters.

The letter thanks Mr Barnier for his “clear commitment” to ensuring high levels of environmental protection in the future EU-UK relationship, and calls on him to “commit to the same” when it comes to the island of Ireland

The draft Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland “fails to guarantee” full alignment with all relevant environmental rules in relation to North-South cooperation, the letter states.

This is particularly worrying, the Pillar warns, as the UK’s withdrawal from the EU poses a “set of significant and unique challenges for the environment on the island of Ireland”.

Not only does this risk undermining environmental protection across the island of Ireland, it also risks setting a dangerous precedent for the wider EU-UK future relationship, the letter reads.

There are currently over 650 pieces of EU legislation in place that act as the principal drivers of environmental protection in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union currently play a crucial role in overseeing and enforcing compliance with these standards and securing access to justice for citizens and civil society organisations.

According to the Pillar, these governance structures play a “central role” in supporting environmental cooperation, driving environmental improvements, and providing the “level playing field” necessary to support “frictionless North-South trade on a sustainable basis”.

Environmental Pillar coordinator, Michael Ewing, said:

“The UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU poses a set of significant and unique challenges for the environment on the island of Ireland.

“In our view, any solution capable of avoiding a hard border and providing for frictionless trade on a sustainable all-island basis must guarantee that high standards of environmental protection are fully preserved by both sides and that ‘full alignment’ with all relevant environmental rules is maintained.

“For the sake of our shared natural heritage, it is critical that a solution is found to this issue that does not undermine environmental cooperation and the current set of standards protecting species, habitats, and the wider environment across the island.”

ENDS

[1] The Pillar is comprised of national environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who work together to represent the views of the Irish environmental sector.

[2] Remarks by Michel Barnier at Green 10: “Is Brexit a threat to the future of the EU’s environment?” – European Parliament. 10 April 2018: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-18-3162_en.htm 

[3] The draft protocol is extremely limited in its treatment of environmental issues and only refers explicitly to the provisions of EU environmental law concerning the movement of plants and animals (see Article 7 – Environment): https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/draft_agreement_coloured.pdf 

[4] There are currently over 650 pieces of EU legislation in place that act as the principal drivers of environmental protection in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union currently play a crucial role in overseeing and enforcing compliance with these standards and securing access to justice for citizens and civil society organisations. Both the British and Irish governments have a long history of failing to comply with their environmental obligations, with numerous cases currently before the European Court of Justice: https://goo.gl/397Tp3 

[5] Northern Ireland Environment Link and the Environmental Pillar. (2017). Brexit and Shared Environmental Issues between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement: https://goo.gl/IYqmGt 

[6] National Biodiversity Data Centre: http://www.biodiversityireland.ie/biodiversity-irelands-top-10/10-species-risk-losing/

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