The Great Repeal Bill

6th November 2016

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  • Devolved government ,
  • Environment agencies ,
  • Environment Agency ,
  • NIEA


Vanessa Jackson

What is at stake for environment and sustainability?

The government has announced that, after it notifies the European Council that the UK will leave the EU, it will put forward a Great Repeal Bill.

This will revoke the 1972 European Communities Act and replace the European Court of Justice with the UK Supreme Court as the final court of appeal.

The planned legislation will have the effect of transposing EU directives and regulations into UK law immediately after Brexit. This seems a sensible approach, as it will provide an element of legal certainty over a range of topic areas, including the environment. However, some provisions established in the EU treaties will not necessarily be directly transposed, and this gives cause for concern.

Article 3.3 of the Treaty on European Union sets out that the basis of the European single market is established on sustainability principles. It states: ‘The union shall establish an internal market. It shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. It shall promote scientific and technological advance.’

Environmental protection and sustainability are further reinforced in the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, where Art 11 states: ‘Environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of the Union’s policies and activities, in particular with a view to promoting sustainable development.’

Key environmental principles are set out in Art 191: ‘Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the EU. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.’

At risk, therefore, are the constitutional safeguards that have guided policymakers in driving high standards of environmental protection and enhancement, and broader sustainability principles in how the EU and the UK economy functions.

The proposed bill also raises significant questions on where authority will lie for subsequent amendment or repeal of key environment and sustainability protections after the UK leaves the EU. This raises fundamental questions that need to be addressed:

  • Are the core concepts that have guided environment policy development, namely the principles of precaution, polluter pays and proximity, appropriate for the development of UK environmental policy in the future? If so, how best can they be safeguarded?
  • Should power to amend or repeal EU-derived environment and sustainability laws be vested in parliament or the government?

Feedback on these questions and other issues relating to Brexit will help to establish IEMA’s position. We would welcome members’ thoughts and perspectives. Please email them to [email protected]. IEMA will consult on its position as it develops.


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