A leaked document seen by the Guardian also calls for “the closest possible working relationship” between the EU and UK after Brexit, and for a “no regression clause” in future British trade deals.
This would “limit any negative effects from deregulation,” says the paper, which was submitted to the European parliament’s Brexit environment steering group.
Some Conservative MEPs claimed not to have seen the report that was submitted.
The parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, told the Guardian: “Suggestions that the UK might seek to lower environmental standards after Brexit are alarming and contradict the commitments made by prime minister May in her Florence speech.”
They also showed why a future deal “must contain precise and detailed safeguards, with robust sanctions, to ensure the maintenance of high standards and a level playing field,” he said.
The EU’s environmental laws are among its most popular, with polls showing that over 80% of Britons support the same levels of protection – or higher – after Brexit.
During the referendum campaign, key government ministers said EU laws such as the birds and habitats directive were “spirit-crushing” and would be scrapped.
But Theresa May has sought to defuse fears of conservation backsliding by trying to make the environment a selling point of leaving the bloc. “Let me be very clear,” May said in a speech last month. “Brexit will not mean a lowering of environmental standards.”
“We will use the opportunity Brexit provides to strengthen and enhance our environmental protections – not to weaken them.”
Last week, Michael Gove described “Green Brexit” as “our chance to give the environment a voice in this time of national renewal.”
But the leaked submission says: “By definition, if the UK government fulfils its stated objective of leaving the European Union, then it will be impossible to ‘ensure’ the country maintains the ‘same … standards’ on environmental, health and food safety issues.”
Equally, “if the UK withdraws from the single market it will be impossible to fully ensure that the country’s environmental policies do not have a negative impact [on Europe],” the paper adds.
The Conservative group describes ensuring the closest possible ties with the EU after Brexit as being “of crucial importance,” partly to prevent what the report calls “a race to the bottom amongst states within a similar geographical area”.
Labour party frontbenchers expressed shock at the document, and called on the government to bring forward proposals to earmark current green regulations as a baseline for future trade deals.
Barry Gardiner, Labour’s shadow secretary for international trade and climate change, said: “It is astonishing to find that Conservative MEPs have confirmed everything that we have been saying during the passage of the trade bill this week about the need to secure our environmental standards and protections.”
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