Parties debate legal oversight on the environment after Brexit

31st May 2017

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Nicholas Hunter

A Labour government would establish a tribunal dedicated to the environment to replace the oversight of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) once the UK has left the EU.

Participants at an election hustings held by Greener UK, a coalition of environmental campaign groups, were asked how the government could be held to account on environmental issues after Brexit, considering prime minister Theresa May has vowed to leave the jurisdiction of the ECJ.

Environment minister Thérèse Coffey reiterated her belief, previously stated at a House of Lords EU select committee hearing, that a replacement for the ECJ was unnecessary. ‘We have environmental laws in this country, parliament holds [the] government to account, and of course, people vote for the government.’

EU environmental laws would be transferred into UK law by the Great Repeal Bill so that they were in place on the first day after the UK formally leaves, she added.

Shadow climate change minister Barry Gardiner said: ‘What about day two, or year two? Many in the Tory party are driven by Brexit being a vehicle for deregulation, which is what is frightening about there not being that oversight previously provided by the ECJ and EU infraction proceedings.’

The Labour party has pledged to create a tribunal with simplified procedures to hear environmental cases, he said: ‘The idea that you have to go to the High Court or Supreme Court with all the expense that entails makes it really difficult for ordinary citizens to challenge the government.’

Such a body was needed to enforce the law because the chances of the public voting a government out on the basis of one issue were very remote, Gardner argued.

Liberal Democrat spokesperson for environment, food, and rural affairs Baroness Parminter said her party would fully implement the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to environmental justice.

It also wants to create an Office of Environmental Responsibility to hold the government to account on environmental issues in a similar way to how the Office of Budget Responsibility scrutinises the government’s record on the economy and public finances.

Caroline Russell, Green London Assembly member and spokesperson on transport, said that there was a lack of trust and sense that commercial interests will outweigh those of the natural environment after Brexit.

To watch a recording of the whole debate, click here.


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