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Constitutional uncertainty and political disputes will put Green Brexit at risk

A research study from Queen’s University Belfast has found that a Green Brexit could be under threat without greater cooperation between devolved nations and the UK government.

Green Brexit

The research, which was published today (Wednesday, 10 October), shows that Northern Ireland risks being excluded from the after Brexit environmental settlement because it has no voice in current discussions, due to a lack of government.

The study was led by the University of Sheffield in collaboration with Queen’s University, Cardiff University, the University of Dundee, and the University of East Anglia.  The project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) The UK in a Changing Europe initiative.

The Brexit and the Environment network spent the last year researching the implications of Brexit for environmental policy, working closely with stakeholders in the devolved nations, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In a set of four reports they identify a number of key challenges that threaten the delivery of a Green Brexit.

Dr Viviane Gravey, lecturer in European Politics from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s University Belfast, was the Co-Investigator on the study.

Dr Gravey said: “Brexit offers an opportunity to re-think the design and future ambition of environmental policy in the UK. However, in order to deliver a Green Brexit genuine cooperation on the future environmental policies and governance arrangement is needed, across the four nations. We need common frameworks to ensure a race to the top – not the bottom.

“Tensions between devolved and central UK governments is making it much harder to deliver a Green Brexit in time. This is particularly detrimental here, as Northern Ireland has a history of relatively weak environmental governance and cross-border environmental challenges that it shares with Ireland.”

The key findings include: 

  • Brexit preparations threaten to obscure the common environmental ambitions that unite the Scottish, Welsh and UK governments and heighten the risk that the environment will be downgraded on the policy agenda.
  • The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has said it wants to co-design policy but the experience of the devolved nations is that they are given little notice of announcements and have limited opportunities to shape policy.
  • There is concern that future trade deals will limit the ability of devolved governments to devise their own policies.
  • Stakeholders are worried that a new watchdog will be an English body with little interest in or understanding of the devolved nations.
  • There is strong concern that the innovative and ambitious policy-making in the devolved nations will be undermined.

Professor Charlotte Burns, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Politics and lead author of the UK report, commented: “It is clear that there is ambition across the UK to maintain and enhance environmental standards once the UK leaves the EU. But stakeholders in the devolved nations are concerned that their ability to innovate and devise policies that suit their local circumstances will be eroded after Brexit.

“The governments of the UK need to work together more effectively and in a genuinely consultative manner. This will ensure that if environmental policies do diverge after Brexit day, they do so as part of a coordinated ‘race to the top’ rather than an ad hoc ‘race to the bottom.”

Dr Gravey added: “Northern Ireland is in a paradoxical situation – central to the EU-UK Brexit negotiations but with no official voice in the internal UK Brexit preparations. Now, more than ever, it is time for civil society in Northern Ireland to speak up and make sure Norther Ireland is not left behind and benefits from the opportunities of a Green Brexit.”

All reports are available here:

The Northern Ireland report is available here:



Media enquiries to Zara McBrearty at Queen’s Communications Office at or +44 (0)28 9097 3259