Lords raise concerns over environmental protections under "no deal" Brexit
A Lords committee has written to Environment Secretary Michael Gove to raise concerns about the protection of environmental standards after Brexit.
The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-committee said interim measures on environmental protection were needed in the case of a “no deal” Brexit, as the new watchdog set to replace the EU – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – would not be operational for some time.
The committee said current proposals would mean the OEP would be in place around 2021, following the passage of the Environment Bill through parliament in late 2019. This would leave a two-year gap in environmental protection, it said.
The letter stated such a gap was a “grave concern”, and while recognising the need for consultation on the OEP, it urged the Government to “swiftly implement interim measures that could go some way to taking on the roles performed by European institutions”.
It said: “This could involve temporarily increasing the powers and remit of existing bodies, and providing them with the additional resources and governance structures they would require to undertake these functions effectively and independently.”
Responding to the concern, the Government has said it is “considering what interim measures may be necessary in a no deal scenario after 29 Match 2019 and before the Environment Act is passed and comes into effect.”
The Lords also made a number of other recommendations for strengthening the role of the proposed OEP, the body set to fill the previous role of the EU, European Commission, and European Courts of Justice in protecting and enforcing environmental legislation.
Recommendations include making sure the OEP is fully independent, following concern that the Government will determine the budget and membership of the organisation. The committee has called for parliament to play a greater role with a governance model similar to the National Audit Office.
The Lords also said climate change should be included in the OEP’s remit too – and the Government should work with devolved administrations to ensure environmental protection is being upheld in all four nations of the UK.
Concern was also raised by witnesses to the committee that the OEP’s powers “would not mirror” those of EU institutions, and there was a need to emphasise enforcement powers had to be at least as strong after Brexit as beforehand.
Chair of the committee Lord Teverson said: “We share the concerns raised by environmental lawyers, academics and NGOs, however, that the proposals do not go far enough. The OEP must be, and be seen to be, independent of Government and this will not be achieved if its membership and funding are determined by the Secretary of State.
“The body’s remit and powers should be at least as comprehensive as the EU institutions it is replacing. And to avoid any gap in protection, the Government should put interim measures in place to cover the period between the UK leaving the EU and the OEP being fully operational.”