Gove tells MPs Defra will ramp up Brexit preparations
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has confirmed that the scope of Brexit-related work by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will increase from 43 work streams to 70, in a letter to the Chair of Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) Mary Creagh MP.
The letter, which was sent on 12 March, was released by the EAC yesterday (26 March) and contains Gove’s response to a letter sent by Creagh in February regarding Defra’s preparedness for the UK’s impending departure from the EU, with concerns arising from Defra’s estimation back in November that 1,200 new posts would need to be filled by March 2018 to support Brexit work, only 650 of which had been filled as of November.
While Gove states in the letter that the scope of Defra’s overall portfolio of work on Brexit is ‘currently subject to review’, the Environment Secretary confirmed that ‘preparations for both a no deal scenario and longer-term work triggered by EU exit’ are ‘likely to increase the scope of the programme to about 70 projects in total.’
Gove sought to assuage fears that Defra will not be ready for Brexit and that new policies will not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, stating: ‘The details of plans will come forward in the usual way, for example through consultation, and we will continue to keep Parliament informed through regular statements, committee appearances and debates. Individual projects are subject to scrutiny through review by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, and through ongoing reviews on implementing EU Exit by the NAO.
‘We have plans for all Day 1 projects, and are in the process of ensuring that those plans are at sufficient level of detail. This work has been sequenced on the basis on [sic] the priority status of the project and we are confident that we are focusing our planning on the most complex projects to deliver.’
It remains to be seen whether the reassurances contained in the letter will be regarded as sufficient by those who have observed the Brexit process and its impact on the future of the UK’s environmental policy with a sense of trepidation, especially in the area of waste and resources – despite the release of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which saw this sector feature prominently.
Greener UK, a coalition of 13 major environmental organisations, named the waste and resources sector as ‘high risk’ in its Brexit Risk Tracker back in October after Defra predicted it would not be able to reach the 60 per cent recycling target set by the EU’s Circular Economy Package.
Waste and resources maintained its ‘high risk’ status in the Risk Tracker’s January update due to concerns over lack of funding and capacity, with the National Audit Office stating in December that Brexit creates a significant extra workload for Defra, exemplified by Defra’s estimates on the number of extra posts it will need, which it will have to carry out while accommodating £147 million of budget cuts across 2017/18 and 2018/19.
Funding issues at Defra have also had a negative impact on the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the charity tasked with delivering the government's waste and resources policy. Defra’s budget allocation dedicated to WRAP has fallen from £56 million for 2009/10 to £15.5 million for 2015/16, a decrease of 72 per cent. Its current budget for 2017/18 is below £10 million and continued cuts are set to force the charity charged with delivering much of the government’s resource policy to make 25 members of staff redundant.
You can read the Secretary of State’s letter in full on the Parliament website.