Leadsom admits uncertainty over post-Brexit environmental laws
Andrea Leadsom has confirmed that the majority of European Union (EU) environmental legislation will be transferred across into UK law in the immediate aftermath of Brexit, but uncertainty looms for around a third of green regulations which the Defra Sectretary admitted "won't be easy to transpose".
Appearing before the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) earlier today (25 October) in a public hearing for the Committee’s ongoing inquiry into the future of Britain's natural environment after the EU referendum, Leadsom insisted that she remained “absolutely committed to a smooth transition”.
The South Northamptonshire MP grew increasingly irate over suggestions that the Great Repeal Act - which will overturn the superiority of all existing EU law over the UK's own law - would effectively dilute the UK’s environmental ambitions.
“As far as possible, we will be bringing all EU legislation into UK law, and at first glance it appears that will be feasible to do between two-thirds and three-quarters of legislation," Leadsom told fellow MPs. "That’s not to say there is some ulterior motive; it's merely to say that a good deal of it will be relatively straightforward to bring into UK law.
"There are roughly a quarter that cannot be brought immediately into law either because it requires technical attention or falls away, and that’s the bit we will be looking at to see what steps need to be taken."
During a lively discussion, the Defra Secretary fiercely rejected claims that Brexit would produce an unpredictable environmental outlook for the UK, echoing previous claims by Resource Minister Therese Coffey that the Conservative administration will “leave the environment in a better state than we found it".
Leadsom singled out the Government’s recent action to enhance marine conservation zones and phase out microbeads from cosmetics products as clear examples of continued global leadership on environmental issues. Businesses would be reassured by the certainty provided by the Government’s clear agenda to negotiate its EU departure, Leadsom asserted.
“In terms of continuity for businesses, whether they are farmers or environmental groups trying to actually work towards a particular goal in the UK, I think the certainty of the Great Repeal Bill will come as great comfort to them.
“The important point for certainty for business is that we make it clear is that nothing will change unless it has to on day one. And then, over a period of time, we will be able to repeal, amend, and strengthen laws at leisure.”
With around 25% of all EU legislation currently directly impacting on the Defra ministry, environmental campaigners have continually stressed the importance that rules protecting Britain's natural environment "are not lost" during and after Brexit negotiations.
The EAC expressed its own concern over the Defra's apparent lack of a long-term strategy towards air quality, with statistics suggesting that toxic air pollution is claiming tens of thousands of UK lives a year. Leadsom refused to be drawn on which specific subject areas would be transferred into UK law following the Great Repeal Act, but maintained that air quality remains a “top priority” for Government, alongside progress surrounding water quality reforestation and flood defence.
Later on in the discussion, Leadsom confirmed that the frameworks for the two separate 25-year environment and food & farming plans will be launched “within the next few months,” but she was not prepared to provide an exact date for either. At the suggestion of the “madness” that the plans will be dealt with in isolation, Leadsom insisted that the establishment of two separate pathways was “absolutely the right thing to do”.
Yesterday, the National Audit Office (NAO) published an update on the progress of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Delivery Programme - the soon-to-be-scrapped EU legislation which has courted significant controversy for discriminating against non-EU imports and holding back sustainable development. The update focused primarily on basic payment scheme payments to English farmers and landowners, which totalled £1.39bn up to this month.
Today, the EAC called upon Leadsom - who once infamously decried public subsidies to UK farmers - to ensure that any replacement for CAP payment schemes focuses more on public goods. In response, Leadsom insisted that she wished to maintain a balance between the environmental outlook and food production. “I would like to see environmental goods being a focus,” she said. “But at the same time, food and farming is a very important economic sector, and we would like to see more innovation, more food production, more promotion of the Great British brand.
"But this must come in a way that advances and improves the environment. That would be the real sweet spot.”