The Repeal Bill, released yesterday (13 July), outlines the UK’s intentions to end the supremacy of EU law. The Bill will transpose all EU law into UK law to prevent a legal black hole, although concerns exist about so-called Henry VIII clauses which allow the Government substantial powers to repeal legislation without parliamentary approval in the two years after “exit day”.

The Government insists that “corrections” will only change EU law where it is necessary for it to be incorporated successfully into UK statute law. But with 80% of the UK’s green regulations deriving from EU law, the green community will be wary about the removal of rules on key areas such as water and air quality.

Speaking at a Green Alliance summer reception in London last night, the organisation’s director Shaun Spiers warned that the 66-page Bill has left a “governance gap”.

“The Bill is very disappointing in many respects,” Spiers said. “It falls well short of our expectations and I really hope the Government will think again and amend it.”

‘Environment-shaped hole’

The Green Alliance are part of a coalition of environmental campaigners which has put forward its own set of amendments to the Bill. Specifically, the group, which includes the likes of ClientEarth and WWF, are calling for clarity over which mechanisms will be used to replicate the roles played by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice.

Campaigners have also raised concerns that the Bill does not make guarantees to carry across environmental and wildlife standards such as the ‘precautionary principle’, which prevents policies that might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public, and the principle that the ‘polluter pays’, which seeks to shift the responsibility in dealing with waste from governments to the entities producing it.

“There is no right of action in domestic law on or after exit day based on a failure to comply with any of the general principles of EU law,” the document states.

Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas has meanwhile confirmed that she will work with cross-party MPs to table amendments to the Bill, after raising specific concerns that the document lacks provision for enforcing environmental laws.

“There’s an enormous environment-shaped hole in the Government’s Brexit plans,” Lucas said. “The Repeal Bill may transfer EU laws onto the British statute, but there’s no provision here for ensuring that these laws are properly enforced by institutions in the UK.

“The Government knows that this simple transfer isn’t enough to ensure that our environment is protected – and their refusal to legislate for specific environmental protections and enforcement is reckless.”

Government response

Upon the Bill’s release, the Government reiterated its pledge to become the “first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we inherited it”.

In a briefing document on environmental protections published alongside the Bill, the Government vowed to continue to play an active role in international climate change efforts through retained membership of environmental treaties such as the Montreal and Gothenburg Protocols and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

In response to calls from politicians and green groups alike for the introduction of a new Environmental Protection Act to maintain current standards, the document refers to an opportunity to “ensure our legislative framework is outcome-driven and delivers on our overall commitment of improving the environment within a generation”.

The paper also reiterates the Government’s commitment to publishing a new 25-Year Plan for the Environment, though it does not state a timeframe for the release of that plan, adding to speculation that it could be delayed until after Brexit.

Meanwhile, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has pledged to use Britain’s exit from the EU as an opportunity to redevelop the green policies surrounding the nation’s farming and fishing industries in a way that “puts the environment first”. Speaking at last night’s Green Alliance event, Gove said the UK now has a “unique challenge” to ameliorate the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

George Ogleby

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