With the government’s Withdrawal Bill passing through the House of Commons comfortably last night, eyes in the waste and recycling sector now turn to what this will mean going forward.
Under the terms of the bill, which still has to be passed by the House of Lords, the UK will cease to be a member of the European Union at 23:00 on 31 January 2020. It will continue to abide by its rules and contribute to the EU budget during an 11 month transition period until the end of the calendar year.
During this time, negotiations on the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU will take place, where environmental laws are set to feature.
The most talked about aspects of Brexit which could impact the waste and resources sector are from a legislative perspective and potential delays to exports at the ports.
Great Repeal Bill
Under the terms of the Great Repeal Bill, which became law by Royal Assent in June 2018, already-existing EU law will become directly applicable to UK law.
This includes all the pledges made under the Circular Economy Package, as well as environmental legislation and targets.
During the transitional period, the UK will have to adopt and abide by all laws and legislation passed by the EU parliament. What is unclear, however, is how the UK will be penalised if it fails to hit targets, such as a 50% recycling rate by 2020.
Enforcement of targets and regulations will be addressed by the proposed Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), which is to be independent with the aim of holding the government to account. Its powers will be outlined in the imminent Environment Bill.
Once the transitional period finishes, the Great Repeal Bill will in effect ensure that the EU law is in place in the UK statute book, but it will not be enforced by the European Commission.
Speaking with letsrecycle.com, Jacob Hayler, executive director of the ESA, said: “From a legislative perspective, the Great Repeal Bill enables the transposition EU law into UK law. And, the UK has committed to match the Circular Economy Package, and in some cases have also committed to going beyond this, such as with packaging targets.
“We as an industry want it to be certain that the legislative framework is in place. The Waste Strategy sets out positive direction, and the targets we will have to meet. This was very clear and welcomed by the industry.
“However, there are a lot of details which still need to be ironed out which will hopefully be included in the Environment Bill.
“There are a lot of details which still need to be ironed out which will hopefully be included in the Environment Bill”
“This will give the government the power to introduce many of things set out in the waste strategy, including EPR legislation, and later this year a raft of consultations are expected to come out, which will reveal more of these policies which are set to come in from 2023.”
Several opposition MPs and National Government Organisations have expressed concerns that the UK will drop environmental standards after the transitional period once the European Commission no longer enforces them.
However, the UK’s compliance with EU environmental legislation is expected to play a key part of these negotiations, and the EU has expressed concerns of a “race to the bottom” if the UK in effect undercuts EU environmental laws in any trade deals signed outside of the EU.
And, in the European Parliament yesterday, Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, said: “We do not like Brexit but we respect the decision of the British people. As far as we are concerned, we will be strict. To access the European single market, the British will have to respect all our rules, especially environmental, social and health standards and also state aid control.”
The other major potential effect of Brexit which has dominated the waste sector agenda is on potential port delays.
When the deal was brought before parliament back in October, in a vote which was subsequently delayed, the sector expressed optimism that the deal would ease fears over congestion (see letsrecycle.com story).
Commenting on port delays, Mr Hayler added: “Defra did a good job of making sure everything was in place to allow RDF exports to continue when a ‘No-Deal’ exit looked likely, so there is confidence now that this won’t be disrupted.”
And, speaking at the RDF Conference in November 2019, the head of EU exit at the port of Dover, Tim Reardon, reassured exporters of RDF that the flow of traffic from Britain into Europe “should continue uninterrupted” after Brexit.
He said: “We do have processes in place to ensure that the traffic can continue to flow at its current rate and hopefully at a higher rate than it does now after Brexit, notwithstanding the imposition of a border controller process.”
After a potential Brexit there will be no further physical examinations for freight lorries, nor will there be any changes to passport or driving licence controls, he explained.