Brexit risks environmental ‘vacuum’ – Lords Committee

There is a great risk of a ‘vacuum’ once the European Commission and European Court of Justice no longer have a role in the oversight and enforcement of environmental legislation, a House of Lords report has said.

Brexit risks environmental ‘vacuum’ – Lords Committee
The House of Lords’ EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee’s ‘Brexit: environment and climate change’ report, published today (14 February), reiterates warnings about the future of environmental protections after Brexit made in reports published by Caroline Lucas yesterday (13 February) and Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee in January.

The sub-committee, a group of Lords and Baronesses appointed by the house’s European Union committee to scrutinise the UK government’s environmental policies and actions in respect of the EU, notes that it is ‘far from clear’ whether the Great Repeal Bill, which the government will use to transfer European laws into UK legislation, will be comprehensive enough to maintain the complexity and extent of EU environmental law.

It also points out that while the UK is leaving the EU, it is not leaving Europe, and that its environment will ‘remain inextricably linked’ to that of Europe after Brexit, meaning continued cooperation is necessary.

The Lords report notes that all government departments are undertaking reviews of how legislation in their policy areas will be affected by Brexit, and says these are key to ensuring that current levels of environmental protection are maintained. It reads: ‘The government should use this review to clarify the extent to which the Great Repeal Bill will minimise the risk of a legislative deficit for the environment, and to inform legislative action to ensure that equal levels of environmental protection and standards are retained after Brexit.’

Trade and resources

As well as the legal issues, both well covered in the other two reports, the Lords report looks at how new trade conditions will affect the environment, noting in particular that any restrictions, or the imposition of tariffs, on the UK’s trade with the EU in recycling and waste could ‘significantly increase’ the costs of waste management post-Brexit.

It suggests that once the government has clarified the details of the free trade agreement that it is seeking with the EU, it, in consultation with industry, will need to assess whether its approach to waste management is still feasible and fit for purpose.

Questions have also been raised about the capacity of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) to handle the additional workload of Brexit handover, given that its resources have been steadily cut by the Treasury over recent years.

The report reads: ‘Defra faces an enormous challenge as the UK approaches Brexit. Together with the devolved administrations, it is responsible for repatriating and replacing the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. Alongside the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) it must also map the extent to which environmental and climate change policies can be preserved through the Great Repeal Bill.

‘Furthermore, Defra will need to design regulatory structures to ensure that environmental protections are enforced as effectively after Brexit as before. Resolving the tensions inherent in these competing tasks will be vital if the government is to deliver on its commitments to leave behind a better environment than it inherited.’

The House of Lords’ EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee’s ‘Brexit: environment and climate change’ report can be read and downloaded on the sub-committee’s website.

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