Lucas warns of ‘cocktail of risks’ for our post-Brexit environment
Green Party Co-Leader Caroline Lucas has warned of a ‘cocktail of risks’ to the UK’s environment arising from Brexit, in which key environmental rules could become ‘unenforceable’.
She also notes that Theresa May’s attempts to court the new United States administration could lead to ministers to ‘watering down’ regulations to facilitate the acquisition of a new trade agreement.
The report, ‘Exiting the EU, not the environment’, echoes the warnings of Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), which explained the need for a new Environmental Protection Act to ensure that European laws do not become ‘zombie legislation’ when transposed into UK law.
Membership of the European Union has played a guiding role in developing environmental laws that the UK currently abides by. The government has confirmed that it plans to bring the current framework of environmental regulation into UK and devolved law through its Great Repeal Bill, and has time and again reiterated its commitment of ‘ensuring we become the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it’. However, the EAC report warned that transposed law that is no longer updated or linked to an enforcement body could be eroded through statutory instruments with ‘minimal parliamentary scrutiny’, making it so-called ‘zombie legislation’.
Lucas’s foreword to her report states: ‘The government has yet to identify all of the EU’s environment legislation, and legal and environmental experts have been quick to point out that the transfer process will be far from simple – with the risk that protections will be lost, watered-down, or, perhaps most likely, ignored. The House of Commons Library has compiled a list of the main EU Directives affecting the Department for Environment [Food] and Rural Affairs (Defra) – it has 150 entries. Even that substantial tally pales into insignificance alongside no fewer than 1,100 pieces of EU environmental legislation for which Defra are responsible when it comes to the Great Repeal Bill.’
Lucas’s report sets out her ‘cocktail’ of 12 ways that Brexit could threaten UK environmental policy, including a lack of oversight of compliance with environmental regulations, where the European Commission and European Court of Justice currently monitor and act upon breaches; departure from key agencies like the European Environment Agency and the Chemicals Agency, which support the implementation of environmental policies; and reduction in funding for environmental projects from sources like the EU’s LIFE+ fund.
Subsequently, it establishes five guarantees for the government to make ahead of Brexit to ensure that the environment is not forgotten. These are:
- ‘All eyes on the environment’: involving Parliament and civil society in the transfer of environmental legislation into UK law, giving organisations, businesses and citizens the opportunity to contribute to the process.
- ‘No environmental borders’: retaining relationships with key European institutions to address issues that spread across borders like air and marine pollution and climate change, and setting out how the government plans to abide by international treaties that have previously been met through EU membership.
- ‘A new Environmental Protection Act’: re-establishing environmental protections that are lost or devalued through transposition into UK law, also creating and guaranteeing funds for an independent body to ensure UK compliance with environmental regulation.
- ‘A new deal for sustainable farming & fisheries’: placing the restoration of the UK countryside at the heart of any new plans for farming and the rural economy.
- ‘A green trade framework’: guaranteeing that the government will at least retain the standards it has now, and will not lower them in the negotiation of new trade deals.
Commenting on the need for these guarantees, Lucas, a member of the EAC and a former member of the European Parliament’s Trade Committee, said: “Though we’ve hardly heard it mentioned by the government, it’s clear that British environmental policy faces a cocktail of threats from Brexit. Just days after the Brexit vote in the Commons, we can clearly see the huge risks of downgrading environmental protections as part of the post-referendum process. Key laws could become unenforceable, spending on crucial schemes could be cut and new trade deals could undermine existing regulations.
“Outside the EU, there will be much greater probability of legislative change in the UK, more exposure to the political cycle and a danger that investors will be wary of potentially higher risks. The relative attractiveness of the UK as a place for green investment is in danger of being further reduced.
“Theresa May’s courting of the United States in pursuit of a new Free Trade Agreement poses an even greater risk that ministers may be tempted to water down regulations – such as those on GMOs, pesticides, and animal hormones. We could see chlorinated chickens and hormone beef on UK markets.
“As well as outlining many of the dangers we currently face, this report seeks to present solutions. We need a Green Guarantee that will deliver on government’s commitment to ensuring that ‘we become the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it’. We need to immediately begin work on introducing an environment act to ensure that Britain crucial rules and enforcement don’t drop off as Britain exits the EU.”