Environmental protection is one of the many areas of life that will change if Brexit goes ahead. The Government has promised a new ‘Environment Watchdog’, and there will be a new Environment Bill to establish it and address a few other issues at the same time.
The need for a watchdog comes from there no longer being the European Commission and European Court of Justice in a position to ensure that environmental laws are enforced in the UK. Without their past intervention, UK beaches and air quality would be far worse than they are today. Something is needed to replace the EU’s role after Brexit.
There is also a problem that, although environmental laws derived from EU membership will be transferred into UK law, the UK legal system doesn’t really do “principles”. So what happens to the EU’s environmental principles, such as the precautionary principle and “polluter pays”, which currently influence the drawing up of new EU law? There are also going to be problems resulting from the UK excluding itself from EU initiatives such as “circular economy”, dealing with waste and the use of resources.
The Government has published its proposals. They are severely limited in a series of important ways. This has led to many organisations sending in critical responses to the Government’s consultation document. The response from Green House, submitted in July 2018, can be downloaded here.
Points we made include–
- The proposed scope of the watchdog is strictly “environmental” in a narrow sense, which in terms of Whitehall means keeping it within the boundaries of Defra and not treading on the territory of other government departments or the Committee on Climate Change. Therefore it won’t be involved in the planning system (that’s DCLG) or even in climate! It goes without saying that they want to keep it out of trade, taxation, and other areas of economic policy.
- The new “watchdog” will not necessarily have the power to take public bodies to court. The Government consultation document has very weak wording on this aspect.
- The Government suggest that the environmental principles the watchdog would uphold would be merely on the basis that the Government should “have regard to” them, rather than stronger wording such as “act in accordance with”.
- The principles may only be given the status of items in a National Policy Statement, which would be easy for the Government to change. It is important to include the principles in the wording of the Bill itself, so that they become part of an Act of Parliament. The next stage is likely to be the publication, due before the end of 2018, of a Draft Environmental Principles and Governance Bill for “pre-legislative scrutiny” by Parliament, before introducing the actual Bill some time next year.
Consultation response from: Victor Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org on behalf of Green House think-tank