Government commits to protecting ‘whole body’ of EU environmental laws

The ‘whole body’ of existing EU environmental law will be carried over into UK law when Britain leaves the EU in 2019, the government has confirmed through its Great Repeal Bill white paper.

The Department for Exiting the European Union published its ‘Legislating for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union’ this morning (30 March), setting out the government’s proposals for ensuring that a legal framework is still in place following Brexit.

The paper states that the Great Repeal Bill will ensure that the whole body of environment law is safeguarded prior to Brexit, ‘providing businesses and stakeholders with maximum certainty as we leave the EU’.

Repeating its mantra that the government ‘is committed to ensuring that we become the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it’, the paper explains: ‘The UK’s current legislative framework at national, EU and international level has delivered tangible environmental benefits, such as cleaner rivers and reductions in emissions of sulphur dioxide and ozone depleting substances emissions.

‘Many existing environmental laws also enshrine standards that affect the trade in products and substances across different markets, within the EU as well as internationally.’

The deadline for the UK to leave the EU has now been set as March 2019, after Prime Minister Theresa May notified the union that she was triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty this week (29 March).

This means that by that date, regulations contained within legislation including the Waste Framework, Packaging and Packaging Waste, and Landfill Directives will continue to be legally binding in the UK, at least in the short term.

The white paper states that this will then give the government the opportunity ‘to ensure our legislative framework is outcome driven and delivers on our overall commitment to improve the environment within a generation’. It adds that any changes, however, will occur over time following consultations on amending the regulatory frameworks, including through parliamentary scrutiny.

Leaked document suggests environmental protections vital to future deal with EU

A leaked European Parliament resolution reported in the Guardian yesterday (29 March) allegedly sets out 11 pages of clauses establishing the EU’s stance of Brexit negotiations, including the warning that, should the UK wish to establish a trade deal with the EU, it would have to meet EU environmental and climate change policy and standards.

The document states: ‘Any future agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom is conditional on the United Kingdom’s continued adherence to the standards provided by the Union’s legislation and policies, in among others the fields of environment, climate change, the fight against tax evasion and avoidance, fair competition, trade and social policy.’

Resources Minister Therese Coffey has already confirmed that the government is likely to take on legislative changes brought about by the EU’s Circular Economy Package, which is currently in the midst of institutional negotiations. The package will see the amendment of several legislative documents: directives on waste, packaging waste, landfill and electrical and electronic waste.

Coffey said in January at a Parliamentary debate: “While we are members of the European Union, we will negotiate in good faith… We are negotiating quite hard on behalf of the UK in regards to what we think is achievable and realistic.”

On guard against ‘zombie legislation’

Following an inquiry into the effects of Brexit on the UK’s natural environment, the Environmental Audit Committee, which monitors the environmental impact of all government departments, called in January for a new Environmental Protection Act to be introduced during the negotiation period to ensure that environmental protections are not weakened by the Great Repeal Bill.

According to a report from the committee, approximately a third of over 800 pieces of EU environmental legislation would be difficult to transpose into UK law. Moreover, it warned of the possibility of laws becoming ‘zombie legislation’, where, despite being initially transposed into UK law, the EU laws governing environmental protection could be weakened as they would no longer be updated and would have no regulating bodies tied to them.

EAC Chair Mary Creagh MP said: “Changes from Brexit could put our countryside, farming and wildlife at risk. Protections for Britain’s wildlife and special places currently guaranteed under European law could end up as ‘zombie legislation’ even with the Great Repeal Bill.”

The Great Repeal Bill white paper can be read on the government’s website.

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