MPs worried about environment's position in Brexit negotiations
Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), wrote to Brexit Secretary David Davis and new Environment minister Therese Coffey to seeks assurances about plans for the large proportion of UK environmental law that originates from the EU.
Following a public inquiry completed earlier this year, the EAC concluded that the EU had been ‘crucial’ in shaping British environmental policy and helping the UK lose its moniker as ‘the dirty man of Europe’.
Davies was given the new role Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union during Theresa May’s governmental reshuffle earlier this month, which also saw Coffey join the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), replacing Resources Minister Rory Stewart, though her role at the department has yet to be formally confirmed.
Both ministers have been invited by Creagh to provide oral evidence to the EAC when Parliament reconvenes in September to explain how the government intends to approach environmental issues during the Brexit negotiations.
In particular the committee wants to hear about plans for the environmental law that was derived from the EU and the government’s approach to EU-wide initiatives like the Circular Economy Package, which is seeking to facilitate a more resource-efficient way of life and is currently working its way around the European institutions for ratification.
Ministers from Defra told the inquiry that little had been planned for the eventuality that Britain might vote to leave the EU prior to the referendum in June, but did warn that a vote to leave would trigger a ‘long and tortuous negotiation’ over environmental laws and industries.
Creagh’s letter reads: ‘There are few areas of government policy where the decision to leave the European Union will have a more widespread impact than the environment.
The EAC’s report stated that EU membership has ensured that environmental action in the UK has been taken on a faster timetable, and ‘if the UK were free to set its own environmental standards, it would set them at a less stringent level than has been imposed by the EU’. It also pointed to the lack of air pollution action taken prior to EU air quality limits.
Creagh continued: ‘My Committee believes the government should, as a minimum, commit to maintaining in law the existing level of environmental protection currently guaranteed by EU law.’
One of the main worries of the majority of the waste and resources industry prior to the referendum was what impact Brexit would have on investment in infrastructure, both in the long and short term.
Creagh, who was a vocal campaigner to remain in the EU, wrote: ‘Businesses and investors will be looking for stability at this time. It is crucial that the Government demonstrates its commitment to environmental protection at an early stage in the exit negotiations…
‘We would like to know what enforcement mechanisms and changes to regulatory regimes are planned.’
Mary Creagh’s full letter can be downloaded here.