MPs warn of 'severely downgraded' environmental protections post-Brexit

26th April 2019

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Gareth Thomas

Pre-legislative scrutiny of the UK government's draft Environment Bill has concluded that the country faces “severely downgraded“ environmental protections after leaving the EU.

In a damning report published yesterday, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) described the bill as “lacking coherence“, with many government departments exempted from their responsibilities.

The MPs also revealed that enforcement of climate change mitigation measures has been “purposefully excluded“ from the scope of the planned Office of Environmental Protection (OEP), with one environmental barrister describing the exclusion as “absurd“.

Moreover, the EAC raised concerns that they had only seen sections on principles and governance, and were unable to assess the full implications of the bill for the environment.

EAC chair, Mary Creagh, said: “The draft bill means that if we leave the EU we will have weaker environmental principles, less monitoring and weaker enforcement, and no threat of fines to force government action.

“The government promised to create a new body for governance that would go beyond standards set by the EU. It's shocking that enforcement to act on climate change has been deliberately left out of the remit of the OEP.“

The OEP's inability to enforce climate change mitigation measures has come about by a decision to exclude greenhouse gas emissions from the definition of environmental law, according to the report.

The watchdog's enforcement powers are instead limited to administrative compliance rather than achieving environmental standards, a departure from the enforcement procedure of the European Commission.

While the decision to scrap a legal requirement for all public bodies to seek a high level of environmental protection after Brexit is just one example of environmental principles being downgraded.

The MPs also described the scope of the bill, largely limited to England, as “disappointing“, arguing that UK-wide cooperation would allow more coordinated action, and said the bill does not yet meet the non-regression clause for the environment set out in the withdrawal agreement.

And fears were raised that there will be a gap between the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice ending and the OEP being set-up if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

“If we want to be a world-leader in environmental protection, we need a world-leading body to protect it,“ Creagh continued.

“This bill would reduce action to meet environmental standards to a tick-box exercise, limit scrutiny, and pass the buck for environmental failings to local authorities. The bill, so far, falls woefully short.“

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