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Marine Environmental Legislations in the UK following Brexit - What is next?

26 Sep 2016

Being part of the European Union, the United Kingdom does not only benefit from the single market but a number of legislations apply that help both the terrestrial and marine environments. For example, the Birds and Habitat Directive serves as a backbone for the conservation of natural habitats, and with the establishment of Natura 2000 sites, the network of protected areas cover 18% of the land area and 6% of the marine territory. However, the outcome of the UK’s EU referendum brings significant uncertainty and challenges for the future of conservation.


Some of the directives that are currently in place:


  • Marine Strategy Framework Directive on establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy, achieving Good Environmental Status (GES).

  • Maritime Spatial Planning Directive aimed at promoting the sustainable growth of maritime economies, the sustainable development of marine areas and the sustainable use of marine resources.

  • Birds Directive on the conservation of wild birds with the creation of Special Protection Areas.

  • Habitat Directive on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora with the creation of Special Areas of Conservation.

  • Common Fisheries Policy on managing European fishing fleets and fishing stocks.

  • Bathing Water Directive to prevent, or at least minimise, the presence of sewage sludge in waters intended for bathing.

  • Water Framework Directive provides a framework for action in the field of water policy.

  • Floods Directive to assess and manage flood risks.

  • EIA Directive on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment.

  • Directive 2006/11/EC on pollution caused by certain dangerous substances discharged into the aquatic environment.

  • Council Directive 91/271/EEC concerning urban waste water collection and treatment.


The United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union will only begin when Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is invoked, which will be followed by a two-year-long negotiation when the terms of departure will be agreed on. Uncertainty lays in the outcome of the negotiations and type of relationship that the UK will have with the European Union, and how EU Directives will be replaced.


Possible models after the United Kingdom exits the European Union:


  1. Norway model (soft Brexit): This is the most integrated model with the Single Market and many of the EU environmental legislation would remain in place. However, directives such as Bird and Habitat, Bathing Water, Maritime Spatial Planning and the Common Fisheries Policy would no longer apply.

  2. Bilateral agreement: Limited access to the Single Market but complying with its rules. No clear prediction on environmental legislations.

  3. WTO membership (hard Brexit): Trading policies would apply according to the World Trade Organisation. As well as in the Norway model, the Bird and Habitat, Bathing Water, Maritime Spatial Planning and the Common Fisheries Policy would not apply. In addition, the UK no longer would have to comply with the Water Framework Directive, Marine Strategy Framework Directive, and access to EU funding programmes would no longer be possible.


Regardless of the outcome, however, once out of the European Union, the United Kingdom should remain forward thinking, proactive and further the well-being of the environment by maintaining practices such as: preventive and precautionary principles, ecosystem approach and collaborative working.


References and suggested reading:


1, Summary of Current Legislation Relevant to Nature Conservation in the Marine Environment in the United Kingdom

2, Brexit Implications for the future of the UK’s Marine Environment

3, Marine Directive

4, Maritime Spatial Planning

5, Common Fisheries Policy

6, Bathing Water Directive

7, Article 50 of Lisbon Treaty

8, Alternatives to membership: possible models for the United Kingdom outside the European Union

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