Defra Secretary Michael Gove has rejected an EU proposal designed to prevent the UK from slashing environmental standards to gain a competitive advantage after Brexit.
Last week, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, attended an event in the European Parliament where he told MEPs the UK would have to sign a ‘non-regression clause’ as part of any future trade deal.
He claimed this would be needed in order to ensure a level playing field in future, citing the example of air pollution – an area where the EU has been pushing farmers to reduce their ammonia emissions.
“Reduced UK ambition on air pollution could result in neighbouring states Ireland, Belgium, France and the Netherlands needing up to 9 per cent more effort to reach their clean air objectives, with significant additional costs”, Mr Barnier said.
“This is why in the future relationship we should commit to no lowering of the standards of environmental protection.
“The agreement on the future relationship with the UK should include a non-regression clause.
“This can be inspired by the CETA [Canada trade deal] or Japan provisions, but this will need to go further. It should prevent any reduction of the key pre-Brexit standards.”
When giving evidence to MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee yesterday, Mr Gove made clear he would not support this kind of clause, though he conceded it would be a matter for negotiation.
“The non-regression clause, in essence, is a means of the EU giving itself potential control over domestic legislation”, he said.
“I do not think that is necessary. I think it goes against the spirit of taking back control, and it is up to the Government and Parliament to demonstrate in the future it will not be necessary.
“The ultimate logic is if I accepted we needed Michel Barnier, or indeed anyone appointed by the Commission, to judge whether or not we were up to snuff in these areas, that would be to subcontract the Government’s responsibility.”
There is a risk that unless the UK agrees to this kind of non-regression clause, other EU member states could vote down the whole future trade deal.