Environmental policy experts have raised concerns that government action to address air pollution in the UK could be delayed following today’s General Election result.
Theresa May’s Conservative Party is to form a government with the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, having lost a slender majority following polling yesterday which has resulted in a hung parliament.
This comes amid a legal challenge over the government’s plans to reduce nitrogen dioxide in England’s towns and cities.
Prior to the election, the government was forced to publish its proposals to address the UK’s non-compliance with EU air pollution limits, after the High Court ruled that election ‘purdah’ restrictions did not prevent the publication of the plan.
A draft of the plan was published for consultation on 5 May, with a deadline for the final version of the proposals due to be released by the end of July.
However, since the publication of the draft plan, environmental campaign group ClientEarth has launched a further challenge to the government’s proposals, describing the draft plan as ‘flawed’ (see airqualitynews.com story).
A date has yet to be set for the legal challenge to be heard, and it is feared that political decision-making could become complicated whilst a new government takes shape.
Laurie Laybourn-Langton, IPPR Senior Research Fellow said: “The UK is entering a likely period of political instability at a crucial time for air quality. There is the potential for this to affect the timing and quality of its plans to overcome air pollution. The new government must ensure that this does not happen, and will likely face legal implications if it does not.”
Speaking to airqualitynews.com, Neil Wallis of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, said: “We already knew before the election that the UK government needed to step up its efforts to meet air quality standards, and this challenge still stands. The EU currently plays a vital role in ensuring compliance with environmental standards. As Brexit goes ahead, we will need UK enforcement mechanisms to ensure that citizens can hold this and future governments to account if they fail to uphold their own policies.”
Brexit negotiations, which had been due to commence from next week, could also be crucial in the development of future government strategy over air quality.
The UK is currently subject to several EU Directives which require action to address air pollution, and it had been hinted that environmental regulations may be brought into UK law ahead of Brexit.
Yesterday’s result has increased the possibility that the UK will negotiate a ‘soft’ Brexit – which potentially means a smoother transition for existing environmental legislation.
Shaun Spiers, Green Alliance director, said: “We already knew before the election that the UK government needed to step up its efforts to meet air quality standards, and this challenge still stands. The EU currently plays a vital role in ensuring compliance with environmental standards. As Brexit goes ahead, we will need UK enforcement mechanisms to ensure that citizens can hold this and future governments to account if they fail to uphold their own policies.”
The Environmental Industries Commission, which represents green businesses has claimed that a soft Brexit could ‘increase certainty’ in environmental markets.
In a statement, the organisation said: “Last night saw the Government’s majority in Parliament ended and the probability of a Conservative minority Government to be formed in the hours and days ahead.
“It may well be that a weak Conservative Government ends up negotiating a softer Brexit, which in turn could make it more likely that UK environmental law post-Brexit will mirror EU law indefinitely (the EU Parliament has insisted that full UK compliance with all EU environmental regulations should be a non-negotiable part of any UK-EU trade deal), which could increase certainty in some environmental markets.”