Defra to launch consultation on independent body for environmental standards

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has confirmed that an independent body to hold the Government to account over environmental standards after the UK has left the European Union will be established following a consultation early next year.

Defra announced on Sunday (12 November) that a consultation to outline the specific powers and scope of an independent monitoring body for environmental standards post-Brexit would be launched in 2018.

The aim of the consultation is to establish how a statutory body could advise and challenge the government, and potentially other public bodies, to adhere to environmental standards created during the Brexit negotiations.

Gove appeared before an Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) committee earlier this month to explain how the Government should replace the judiciary functions of the European Commission and European Court of Justice (ECJ). During that committee meeting, Gove expressed his desire for an independent body to be set up, and a consultation will arrive shortly.

Commenting on the consultation announcement, Gove said: “We will deliver a Green Brexit, where environmental standards are not only maintained but enhanced. Today we are setting out our plans to ensure the powerful are held to account.

“We will consult on creating an independent body – encouraging transparency and preventing careless or irresponsible behaviour damaging our natural environment. We will consult as widely as possible on these proposals to ensure we get this important decision right for future generations.”

The current environmental regulatory system in the UK is underpinned by ‘principles’ from the European Commission, including the ‘polluter pays principle’ that places an onus on businesses to repair environmental damage.

Despite being central to government policies, the principles aren’t established outside on any EU treaties. The proposed statutory body will explore any transposal methods for the principles during Brexit negotiations, as well as new policy statements to strengthen environmental standards.

The consultation will call on organisations to provide evidence of whether devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland want to embark on individual approaches.

Gove’s Governing

The Government’s Repeal Bill pledges to preserve the whole body of EU environmental law immediately after the UK’s departure. But the EAC and green groups have warned that copying EU rules over without also putting in place an equivalent governance architecture could result in “zombie legislation”.

Gove believes that Brexit has given the UK a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to become global leaders on agricultural management and is currently working with businesses to see how a plastic container deposit return scheme could work in England.

One of the key legislative pieces that Gove has had to work on since his announcement as Environment Secretary in June is the 25-year environment and food & farming plans. Earlier this month, Gove told the EAC that there would now be only one document published, which he said would be released either before Christmas or, at latest, in January 2018.

Matt Mace

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