What would a Brexit mean for the Nexus?
The Nexus Network Brexit project focuses on the consequences that the Brexit could have on UK water-food-energy systems and the natural environment.
The implications of different future UK-EU relationships for the Nexus
On the 23 June 2016 the UK population voted to leave the European Union (51.9% to 48.1%), sparking increased uncertainty around the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
The nature of any future relationship is likely to impact on the UK consumption of water, food and energy, and the inter-dependencies between both drivers and dimensions of the “Nexus”.
We are now building on the pre-Brexit workshop series, funded by a Nexus Network Networking Grant, in order to outline the possible implications of different future UK-EU relationships for energy, food and water. We are developing a set of scenarios and narratives around the consequences of a UK exit from the European Union. For each of the scenarios, we will explore risks and opportunities for the UK natural, urban and built environments to provide a secure supply of water, energy, and food into the 21st century.
Background to the pre- Brexit workshops
Phase 1 of the Nexus-Brexit project involved two workshops conducted in November and December 2015, at a time when the polls suggested that the UK leaving the EU following the referendum was unlikely. The June 2016 decision by the UK electorate to leave the EU threw the project into a new light.
During the previous workshops, which focused on the impact of the (then potential) Brexit on energy, water and food, two groups of experts worked to develop and validate fuzzy cognitive maps, exploring the main drivers, relationships and interconnections in these systems. Unlike previous scenario exercises which focused on one dimension at a time, these workshops followed a Nexus approach acknowledging the interconnections in these three systems.
The future relationship between the UK and the EU
Following the vote to leave the EU we identified an opportunity to use these maps to test three further scenarios. Each scenario will describe the form of a possible relationship between the UK and EU in a post-Brexit world. Given the large variety of potential post-Brexit relationships between the UK and EU we suggest three scenarios ranging from the most integrated, to the least integrated case. It is unlikely that any of our scenarios will represent the exact nature of the eventual Brexit agreement, rather the aim is to examine scenarios along a continuum of integration.
The aim of this phase of the project is to gather an expert consensus on the implications of the three different scenarios on energy, food and water.
pre- Brexit workshops – More information
In November 2015 the Nexus Brexit team held a workshop at the University of Leeds, which brought together around 30 academic and non-academic experts to list key drivers and inter-connections affecting UK domestic consumption of water, energy and food. The outputs of that workshop were used in a smaller follow up workshop on Uncertainties of future UK water, energy & food consumption, in Dec 2015, in Cambridge, in which an analytical model was used to test and to forecast how the UK domestic water, energy and food demand will change under different assumptions and scenarios.
In January 2013, David Cameron, the then Conservative-LibDem coalition prime minister promised the UK public that if the Conservative Party won the coming General Election in 2015, the Tories will work to negotiate a better deal for the UK within Europe. The Tories would put the decision in the hands of the UK people in a Referendum in which they will be asked if they want to stay or leave the European Union. European leaders, however, publicly denounced the UK intentions to change major provisions of the EU Treaty, such as the freedom of movement, saying that only after the UK vote to stay part of the EU, Brussels should negotiate minor changes that would apply to all countries.
On 7 May 2015, the Tories won an outright majority with 331 seats, 24 more than they held before. The Tory government announced on 27 May 2015, its intention to have an EU Referendum at the earliest date possible, possibly summer/autumn of 2016.
What is Nexus-Brexit about?
Since January 2013 announcement, an active discussion on the impacts of the UK exiting the EU (a.k.a Brexit) flourished in the media and in academic literature. Most of the arguments focused on the issues causing this UK-EU “crisis”, namely immigration (i.e. freedom of movement) and delegation of power to Brussels. However, the Brexit holds risks and opportunities in many areas of public policy, and can profoundly impact the UK economy and society. One issue that got recent attention was the impact on the agricultural sector, especially as it relates to the fate of direct payments to farmers as regulated by the EU Common Agricultural Policy.
How would Brexit impact the Nexus?
Should the UK remain in the European Economic Area or European Free Trade Area, the UK would have to continue implementing European Union Law relevant to the internal market. However, it would no longer have to follow major EU policy that affects the natural environment, such as the common agriculture policy (CAP), water framework directive (WFD) and fisheries policies.
If it chooses to leave the European Economic Area, it will face export tariffs when trading with Europe, and will have to negotiate bilateral agreements with EU and third countries. In addition, many economic policies would also become independent of the EU, impacting UK water, energy, and food supplies. Indirectly, other changes to UK society preferences and economics will further drive land use changes. These will further impact on conservation efforts across the country which will no longer be bound to EU legislation, such as the Habitat Directive and Birds Directive.
Closing UK borders or limiting immigration from Europe, in particular eastern Member States, is one issue often raised as a reason (or a worry, as expressed by farming organisations relying on that labour force) for EU exit. However, these demographic changes need to be understood better, in particular what impacts they will have on overall consumption, urban centres, employment, income levels and food, energy and water use. Lastly, UK policy changes will affect the nation’s global footprint, especially its dependence upon overseas food, energy and “virtual water” (i.e. water encapsulated in commodities).
Cutting through Complexity
The Nexus dimensions of Brexit are vast and complex, with many interconnected issues, drivers and modulators of impact. Nevertheless, complex system methods can help stakeholders (government, agencies/regulators, business, NGOs, civil society, local authorities etc.) consider plausible futures for Brexit.
With the help of natural scientists and energy modellers, these futures can be translated into evidence-based impact assessments depicting state of the nation’s food, energy and water systems, as well as international impacts. There is an immediate need for stakeholders and academics to co-produce a set of realistic scenarios and their plausible consequences, capturing the direct and indirect impacts of Brexit in the UK and worldwide. The Nexus-Brexit project will initiate this process by carrying out a widely-distributed survey and two stakeholder workshops. The final deliverables will include an academic report, policy brief and public-focused print and online material.
- Nexus-Brexit survey: June-July 2015.
- Stakeholder workshop: November 2015.
- Stakeholder workshop: December 2015.
- Phase 2 Post Brexit: Summer 2016.
- Outputs: Autumn 2016.
The Nexus-Brexit team:
- Guy Ziv, School of Geography, University of Leeds (Principal Investigator).
- Ariella Helfgott, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford.
- David Howard, Director LEC Centre for Sustainable Energy, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
- Shaun Larcom, Centre for Development, Environment and Policy, University of London.
- Jean-Francois Mercure, Deputy Director, Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research, University of Cambridge.
- Andrew Tanentzap, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge.
- Kristian Steele, Senior Consultant, Advanced Technology and Research, Arup.
- Elizabeth Watson, Research Assistant, University of Leeds.
other networking grants
Read more about the other 5 networking grants.
Image credit: Image constructed by Dr Guy Ziv. Cutting out Britain from a 1923 Europe map, a symbol of “going back” to pre EU.