MPs have called on the Government to strengthen the commitments made in its 25-year Environment Plan in order to prepare for the event of a no-deal Brexit scenario, claiming that the UK is currently at risk of losing one-third of green legislation if no agreement with the EU is agreed.
After writing a report citing its concerns about the UK’s 25-year Environment Plan earlier this year, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has now published the Government’s response.
The EAC’s initial report, published in July, called on the Government to create legally-binding targets for environmental issues that can be scrutinised by a new independent oversight body. Specifically, the report called for issues such as air quality, waste, water and soil to be subject to five-year reports.
It additionally recommended that the UK’s new green watchdog should have the power take the Government and other public bodies to court where standards are breached, as well as the remit to oversee all public authorities and to initiate its own investigations that can be adjudicated by the courts.
The concern is that after Britain leaves the EU, there will be no UK body to replace the role of the European Commission or the European Environment Agency, which has the same power.
Responding to the EAC’s initial report, the Government claimed that it “already has extensive legal targets for the environment” which have been enshrined into UK law.
It additionally suggested that it is preparing to make sure a new statutory body is in place “as soon as is practically achievable” in the event of a no-deal Brexit – but provided no information on what powers the watchdog will have, or how these powers will be exacted.
“The Prime Minister has been clear that we will use the opportunity Brexit provides to strengthen and enhance our environmental protections – not to weaken them,” the Government’s response letter to the EAC states.
“A strong and objective voice that champions and enforces environmental standards will help the Government achieve our objectives of a Green Brexit and the vision set out in the 25-year Environment Plan.”
The letter of response was criticised by EAC chair Mary Creagh MP, who claimed that it failed to show a commitment to replacing the 33% of EU environmental legislation which has not yet entered into UK law.
“The Government’s woolly response makes no firm commitments on the future governance of the environment after Brexit, which is of great concern, given that the Agriculture Bill is making its way through Parliament,” Creagh said.
“If we want a world-leading environment, we need a strong, independent environmental watchdog which Ministers cannot quietly put to sleep. It is also deeply worrying that the response does not commit to replace the one-third of EU environmental legislation that cannot be copied and pasted into UK law after Brexit.
It is deeply worrying that the response does not commit to replace the one third of EU environmental legislation that cannot be copied and pasted into UK law after Brexit. It should set five yearly wildlife budgets, so people can see taxpayers' money being spent on public goods like flood prevention, protecting species from extinction and restoring our soils."
Despite Creagh’s concerns, the Government’s response does include a fresh commitment to publish annual reports on progress towards the 200 goals included in the 25-year Environment Plan.
It contains a pledge to bring forward draft clauses on the oversight and scrutiny functions of the regulatory body to this Autumn.