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Ending protection for newts
02 Dec, 2017

There are benefits that can be obtained from Brexit – but Brexit is hardly the best way of obtaining them.

The Purpose of Brexit

One of the main planks of Brexit is the ability to write our own laws. Even without going into the advantages of pooling sovereignty, that ability is only worth having if we would actually have different laws. So it is shocking that even now Leavers are unable to come up with a worthwhile list of laws to repeal.

(Every Leaver’s favourite law – the prohibition of bendy bananas – does not actually exist, though as I have set out on this page there is a useful EU law on the subject.)

Any specific proposal is a welcome contribution to the debate: on the rather short list of concrete proposals for changing our laws after Brexit we can place reduced protection for newts.

Anyone who has been involved with building projects knows how the heart sinks when newts are discovered on site. There can be no serious doubt about the costs to business of newt protection.

Ministers’ point is that the costs are without much benefit as newts are said to be fairly common in Britain, although endangered elsewhere in Europe. I do not know whether that is true. I am going to assume for now that it is.

How to Solve a Problem

So option 1 for dealing with the problem of disproportionate protection of newts is Brexit. 

Another option would be to amend the EU habitats directive so that its provisions apply only in designated areas. The EU could map areas where the newt is endangered and apply protections there. Outside the protected areas, there would be no or less protection.

There would be administration costs in creating and maintaining the map - offset by lower compliance costs. And I do not underestimate the difficulties of amending EU directives.

But it must be simpler than Brexit.

The point is, one should start by defining a problem (construction delays due to too much protection for newts) and then look at a range of solutions. What Leave and the Government have done is find a “solution” (Brexit) and then started wondering what problems it solves.

So far, construction delays caused by excessive newt protection is the main one I have seen.

Is even a property developer really sure that the costs are worth the benefits?


By London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg