Brexit briefing on the precautionary principle

12 Nov 2018

The British Academy has published the latest in its series of Brexit briefings, Legal Aspects of the Precautionary Principle by Professor Joanne Scott FBA FRSE.

The precautionary principle is an environmental principle enshrined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.  Where there is scientific uncertainty about risks to human health or the environment, the precautionary principle allows decision makers to adopt protective measures without having to wait until the reality of those risks become fully apparent.

This principle has been relied upon in environmental cases in EU law, for example when upholding restrictions on the use of insecticides dangerous to bees in the face of legal challenges by manufacturers.

This new Brexit briefing is designed to facilitate debate as the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs prepares a draft Bill containing a set of environmental principles, including the precautionary principle, as part of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Read Legal Aspects of the Precautionary Principle.

Author Professor Joanne Scott FBA said:

“The precautionary principle is one of the key principles upon which EU environmental policy is based. It cautions a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach, but it is often misrepresented and misunderstood. The EU has adopted a moderate version of the precautionary principle which is underpinned by scientific and other constraints.

“As the Government prepares to incorporate the precautionary principle into UK law,  it is important to understand accurately the content and role of this principle, which will still be available to the UK’s trading partners to assist them in justifying restrictions on trade even once the UK has left the EU.”

Professor Joanne Scott is a Fellow of the British Academy and Professor of European Law at the European University Institute in Florence and at UCL. She is Co-Director of the Academy of European Law at the EUI. She is a former member of the Royal Commission of Environmental Pollution and has written widely in the area of EU environmental law and WTO law. She was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2013 and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2012.

The British Academy’s Brexit briefings explore the challenges and the key issues related to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Read the other briefings in the series.



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