Theresa May must outlaw future secret trade courts which risk 'green Brexit'

James Thornton

James Thornton, the chief executive of ClientEarth. 

James Thornton, the chief executive of ClientEarth, will call for a ban on any new secret trade courts that allow companies to sue governments for imposing environmental regulations. He is giving a keynote speech at a conference attended by Michael Gove, the environment secretary, today. BRENDAN MONTAGUE reports

We need to stay away from tribunals that allow big corporations to sue governments over environmental rule making. These deals create an environmental penalty for an economic crime.

Theresa May and her cabinet must put environmental protection at the heart of its trade policy by banning deals that allow big corporations access to their own clandestine courts, James Thornton, the chief executive of ClientEarth, will say today.

Thornton is giving a keynote speech at a Green Brexit conference in London this morning - with Michael Gove, the environment secretary in attendance. He will use the event to argue that controversial "ISDS-style" trade agreements - which allow companies to sideline domestic courts and sue governments over environmental rule-making - must be made illegal.

The environmental lawyer will say in his speech: “We can integrate environmental protection throughout trade policy. We can refuse to trade with countries that do not participate adequately in key international agreements, like the Paris Accord.

Diesel and petrol

“Perhaps most importantly, we need to stay away from tribunals that allow big corporations to sue governments over environmental rule making. These deals create an environmental penalty for an economic crime.”

The European Court of Justice last week ruled that such practices are against EU law. “We should make them illegal here too,” Thornton will add in his keynote speech, which sets out how Britain can and must become a world leader on environmental protection after leaving the EU.

The UK government is due to publish its proposals for a new watchdog in the coming weeks that will hold the government and public authorities to account on environmental standards.

Thornton will tell the conference: “This body will need to have enough bark and enough bite so that when the government won’t listen, the courts will be able to make them. Courts should be empowered to write specific injunctions that require actions such as cleaning up our air.”

The speech comes at the same time as the publication of the Joint Select Committee on Air Quality report today that says the government should bring forward the 2040 target to phase out diesel and petrol vehicles.


Thornton will add: “Bringing forward the diesel ban would give a very clear signal to the automotive industry that they need to switch to cleaner modes of transport as soon as possible.”

The chief executive of the environmental law group will argue that the UK can become a leader on sustainable transport by increasing the number of electric charging points to every 10 parking spaces for new non-residential buildings.

He will also suggest looking to California and China, where manufacturers have been made to ensure a percentage of vehicles sold are low-emission. This would not cost the taxpayer and help the UK compete on an international stage.

A spokesperson for ClientEarth added: "These forward-thinking policies, and proper access to justice for citizens, could position the UK as a world-leader on the environment and inspire other nations once Britain leaves the EU."

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist, founder of Request Initiative and co-author of Impact of Market Forces on Addictive Substances and Behaviours: The web of influence of addictive industries (Oxford University Press)He tweets at @EcoMontague.

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