Environmental legislation needed before Brexit

4th January 2017

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  • Natural resources ,
  • Biodiversity ,
  • Ecosystems ,
  • Politics & Economics ,
  • England


Steve Cousins

A new Environmental Protection Act should be passed before the UK leaves the EU to plug any gaps left by the Great Repeal Bill, a cross-party group of MPs said.

The bill was announced by the government as a way of transposing existing EU law into UK legislation, and will take effect once the UK has formally left the bloc.

But the Environmental Audit Committee today warned in a report that simply transposing legislation without replacing governance arrangements would lead to significant weakening of environmental protections in many areas.

During the committee’s inquiry on the post-Brexit future of the natural environment, secretary of state for the environment Andrea Leadsom had told MPs that one third of more than 800 pieces of environmental legislation could not be simply copied and pasted into UK law.

Witnesses to the inquiry told the committee that the most significant issues with transposition are likely to arise where EU legislation rests on cooperation between member states, public authorities and businesses, as Brexit will fundamentally alter these relationships.

The committee’s report also highlights potential difficulties where EU legislation is linked to international conventions, noting that the UK would have to establish its own reporting mechanisms directly to international institutions.

National Parks England told the committee that the UK would need to set up administrative systems equivalent to those that operate at EU level to protect important wildlife sites because the current arrangements for enforcing the Habitats Directive via the European Commission and the European Court of Justice would no longer apply after Brexit.

Dr Viviane Gravey, lecturer in European Politics at Queen’s University Belfast, pointed out that governance arrangements would not be transposed along with EU laws. This could lead to a loss of investor confidence and a lack of accountability for the UK government, as campaign groups would no longer be able to challenge policy in court, she said.

The committee is planning further work on the problems facing the UK in transposing legislation and developing a governance structure once it leaves the EU.

Chair of the committee Mary Creagh said: ‘Protections for Britain’s wildlife and special places currently guaranteed under European law could end up as “zombie legislation” even with the great repeal bill.

‘The government should safeguard protections for Britain’s wildlife and special places in a new environmental protection act.’

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • The government must provide evidence that the environment department (Defra) has the capacity to deal with the additional workload created by the vote to leave the EU. Last month, the Institute for Government think tank pointed out that the department’s budget is 17% smaller now than in 2010, and will be almost 35% smaller by March 2019. It warned that the civil service would fail either to deliver existing commitments or to plan properly for Brexit and life afterwards.
  • The government must also recognise the interdependence of its planned 25-year strategies for food and farming, and the environment and ensure that they are fully coordinated in its negotiating strategy.
  • The negotiations must address the impact of international issues, including future trade arrangements on the UK environment and agriculture.


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