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The EU Wants to Make Sure the UK Doesn't Ditch Environmental Protections Post-Brexit

The European Union wants legal reassurance from Britain that it won’t ditch existing environmental regulations after Brexit. 

Chief negotiator for the EU, Michel Barnier, reportedly said the UK should be made to sign what’s known as a “non-regression clause” when it leaves the EU. 

That clause would legally stop Britain stripping back on environmental protections set by the EU. 

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Barnier warned that Britain shouldn’t be able to “gain competitive advantage” over the 27 remaining countries, after it leaves the EU at the end of March 2019, and said the clause would ensure a “level playing field” on environmental issues.

“I am not prejudicing anything as to the UK’s future policies,” he said, speaking at the European parliament on Tuesday. “But let me be clear: these questions are not only economic or social, but also political.” 

“Why? Because the answers will be key to the ratification of any future deal by each national parliament, and obviously also by some regional parliaments, and by the European parliament,” he said. 

“This is why in the future relationship we should commit to no lowering of the standards of environmental protection,” he added. “The agreement on the future relationship with the UK should include a non-regression clause.” 

Read more: The UK Just Joined the Fight to Protect the World's Coral Reefs

Barnier also warned of the effect that an increase in pollution in Britain would have on neighbouring countries, such as Ireland, Belgium, France, and the Netherlands — which could be left needing “up to 9% more effort to reach their clean air objectives — with significant additional costs."

The UK announced in January its 25-year plan for the environment, which aims to “set the global gold standard” on eliminating plastic, according to environment secretary Michael Gove. 

Barnier said this 25-year plan reflected Prime Minister Theresa May’s assurance to the EU about the UK’s post-Brexit environmental plans. 

Read more: Britain Has Just Days to Take 'Drastic' Action on Air Pollution, or Face EU Court of Justice

“This is welcome,” he added, “but my responsibility as the EU negotiator is to remain extremely vigilant.” 

In January, 13 environmental organisations — including the WWF, the National Trust, and Friends of the Earth — joined together to warn there was a “significant risk” that the UK would cut environmental regulations following Brexit, reported the Independent.

The coalition of organisations suggested there was a “lack of willpower,” despite Gove being a “highly engaged and effective environment secretary.” 

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