Michael Gove heralds Brexit opportunity to reshape environment policy

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 shortly after the Government published the Repeal Bill which will convert all existing EU regulations into UK law following Brexit, Gove said the UK now has a “unique challenge” to ameliorate the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

“The Repeal Bill will be scrutinised and I’m in listening mode and I want to hear all of the concerns and hopes that people have for that legislation,” Gove told an audience of environmental groups at an event hosted by think tank Green Alliance in London on Thursday (Scroll down for video).

“But as well as that individual piece of legislation, there is also an opportunity for us to reshape environmental regulation.”

Farmer subsidies

Gove said that Defra will strive to replace the CFP – which sets quotas for how much fish different nations can catch – with a new fisheries management framework which “puts marine conservation at the heart of what we do”. 

He added that the CAP – a system of subsidies paid to EU farmers – should be substituted with a system which rewards farmers for providing environmental benefits such as increasing biodiversity, planting more trees and developing carbon sinks. This will help to “align the interests of farmers with those who care about our environment”, Gove said. 

“We have an opportunity to ensure that we can develop the institutions and mechanisms the world will look to and admire as the most effective for protecting our environment and enhancing our countryside,” said the Secretary of State.

Gove, who took charge of Defra last month following the general election, concluded that the UK has a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to use Brexit as a political platform to become a global leader in the fight against climate change, and to help deliver a “greener, cleaner, better, richer” planet.

Governance gap

But green groups, including the Green Alliance, have been left concerned by the new Repeal Bill, which lacks specific provisions for enforcing environmental laws.

The Alliance’s director Shaun Spiers said the 66-page Bill has left a “governance gap”, which could allow the current or future governments to change or remove environmental legislation without parliamentary oversight. Spiers called on the Government to provide clarity over which mechanisms it will use to replicate the roles played by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice.

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

In a briefing document on Environmental Protections and the Repeal Bill published alongside the Bill, the Government did reiterate its commitment to retaining strong environmental regulations.

“The UK has a long history of environmental protection and we are committed to safeguarding and improving this,” the document states. “This Government is committed to build on this and be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we inherited it.”

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.

Luke Nicholls


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