Brexit deal could be chance for UK nations to be as one

SOME two years after the Brexit vote campaigners continue to raise concerns the UK will lose aspects of environmental protection after it leaves the EU.

While the more bizarre requirements set by the EU provide great storylines for the press, it cannot be denied some of the legislation has helped.

Environmental protection is one of those areas, and although it could be argued the degree of bureaucracy involved is time-consuming, the outcome is generally benefi cial in helping to keep the UK “green and pleasant.”

However, the so-called Brexit Bill (or the European Union Withdrawal Bill 2017-19) as it is offi cially known, has been heavily criticised by environmental organisations.

Enforcement power

The reason for this is it omits principles that are enshrined in EU law, such as the polluter pays principle, which means the cost for environmental damage falls on those responsible for creating it.

Equally, the bill contains no provision for an independent watchdog to replace the enforcement power of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice – both of which can currently take the UK government to court, if it does not comply with EU environmental law.

The government asserts a new Environmental Principles, and Governance Bill which will ensure environmental protections will not be weakened as the UK leaves the EU, and includes provision for a new body to be specifi cally responsible for:

- PROVIDING independent scrutiny and advice on existing and future government environmental law and policy;

- RESPONDING to complaints about government’s delivery of environmental law;

- HOLDING government to account publicly over delivery of environmental law and exercising enforcement where necessary

There were initial fears the proposed environmental ‘watchdog’ lacked teeth, as it did not include the power to issue legal proceedings. However, a subsequent amendment passed by the House of Commons encompassed this power, and will also set environmental principles in primary legislation.

However, its remit would be limited to central

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government, rather than all public bodies such as local authorities and the Environment Agency. The bill is due to go back to the House of Lords, as this publication goes to press.

In May 2018, the government published a public consultation covering, amongst other things, its intention to require ministers to produce – and then have regard to – a statutory and comprehensive policy statement.

This statement should set out how they will apply core environmental principles, as they develop policy and discharge their responsibilities.

Currently environmental decisions made in the UK – from improving air and water quality to protecting endangered species – are overseen by the European Commission.

While these principles are already central to government environmental policy, they are not set out in one place other than in EU treaties, which will no longer be relevant. The Environmental Principles and Governance Bill will address this.

The consultation is open until 2 August 2018, and seeks views on the most eff ective way for the new body to hold government to account. It is set out in three parts: Environmental Principles; Accountability for the Environment, and Overall Environmental Governance.

The consultation is concerned with environmental governance in England and reserved matters throughout the UK, for which the UK government has responsibility. However, there is dialogue with the devolved administrations to explore if they wish to take a similar approach.

Opportunity to co-design proposals

It would be a good opportunity to co-design proposals with them to ensure they work across the whole UK, taking account of the diff erent government and legal systems.

The Environmental Principles and Governance Bill will be published in draft in the autumn. Public consultation on the environmental principles policy statement will follow in due course.

The Bill will be introduced early in the second session of this Parliament, with the aim of ensuring these measures are in place by the end of the implementation period in December 2020.

However, some think the Government should be more ambitious than simply aiming to replace EU environmental legislation like-for-like, and instead seek to embed environmental responsibility across all aspects of society and the economy.

Certainly it could be the ideal opportunity to put legislation in the place that helps to achieve the long-term goals embedded in A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment.

In the meantime, it is important to remember EU environmental governance structures and legislation will continue to apply.

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