Lord Deben: Green regulatory oversight critical to soften ‘damaging’ Brexit

EXCLUSIVE: Ensuring parliamentary scrutiny and independent environmental regulation should be the main priorities during Brexit talks to limit the "damaging" impacts of the UK's departure, according to the prominent environmental peer Lord Deben.

The most recent round of discussions in Parliament over the EU Withdrawal Bill ended with the Government winning every vote. MPs debated a range of issues such as employment rights and the environment, with Labour putting forward amendments to enshrine green guidelines such as the ‘precautionary’ and ‘polluter pays’ principles into UK law.  

On the eve of the Commons debate, Defra confirmed that an independent body to hold the Government to account over environmental standards post-Brexit will be established in 2018. The proposed body will explore any transposal methods for the principles during Brexit negotiations, as well as new policy statements to strengthen environmental standards.

Speaking exclusively to edie on the sidelines of an event in London recently, the Chair of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) said his group would look “very closely” at Defra’s plans to ensure the independence of any future statutory body from Government authority.

Lord Deben said: “There is a fundamental problem about withdrawing because it means we will no longer have the influence on the environment which we have used to great extent to become leaders on climate change and sustainable agriculture. The whole bill itself strikes against our environmental system.

“We will first of all need to replace the protection which the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and environmental structures give us because our own environmental structures are far too influenced by the Government. We will have to look at Mr Gove’s proposals very carefully to make sure they are very independent.”

Parliamentary control

Six more debating days over the Withdrawal Bill will take place in the Commons in the upcoming months. If passed, the bill will bring existing EU law – including environmental legislation – into UK law and allow the Government to use so-called Henry VIII powers to change it without full parliamentary scrutiny.

Deben echoed the concerns of a host of campaign groups that the powers could be used to chip away at environmental laws – 80% of which originate from the EU.

“We have to make sure that parliament is in charge of any changes that take place,” he said.

“We can’t have this curious idea that we are taking back control by giving all of the control to ministers without any parliamentary control. And I mean proper control – that means primarily legislation only changed by primarily legislation.”

Same standards

Maintaining the same green standards as its continental neighbours will be crucial for British trade to prosper once the country exits from the EU, Deben said.

This reflects a common view among those in the green community that the end of the internal market for packaging and packaged goods risks opening a “Pandora’s Box” of divergent national environmental requirements among member states.

“We’ve got to look at how we manage to keep in line with our neighbours,” Deben said. “Manufacturers can’t possibly meet different environmental standards, so those who think it is a good idea to lower our environmental standards – the James Dyson argument – is nonsense because first of all, it’s wrong, we shouldn’t be lowering those standards.

“But also, if we want to export we are going to need at least the same standards.”

Common trading schemes

In recent weeks, the Government has faced criticism for providing “scant detail” on areas relating to post-Brexit energy and climate change policy, such as the UK’s role in the internal energy market and EU Emissions Trading System (ETS).

Talks over these issues cannot begin until an agreement is reached with Brussels over the size of the UK’s “divorce bill”- an example of why the “whole Brexit project is so damaging”, according to Deben.

He stressed the importance for the UK to retain membership of the ETS. Deben said it would be “foolish” to leave the system at a time when the EU is in talks with other regions to create a common carbon market that could include China, a country on the verge of creating world’s largest carbon market.

“The idea that you can have a system of energy arrangements in the question of a trading scheme if you are trading with yourself so to speak, then it makes no sense,” Deben said.

“You’ve got to recognise that. It would be very odd if, at the very time the Chinese are organising their trading schemes so that they could be concurrent with the EU trading scheme, that we should put ourselves in a different position.”

George Ogleby

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