UK's post-Brexit environmental watchdog officially formed
After the Environment Bill received Royal Assent last week, the UK Government has confirmed the legal formation of its post-Brexit environmental watchdog.
The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) was originally meant to be fully operational by the end of January 2021. It is being created to ensure that businesses and local authorities comply with the UK’s long-term green policy requirements, following the UK’s exit from the EU. The European Commission had previously performed this function in the UK.
But the Environment Bill needed to pass before the body could launch, and its progress through Parliament was plagued by Brexit and Covid-19-related delays. In total, the Bill’s passage through Parliament took more than two years.
With the Bill having passed last week, the OEP has today (17 November) confirmed that it has been legally formed, following its launch as an Interim body this summer.
In a statement sent to media representatives this morning, the OEP stated that itwill begin the transition to an independent entity in early 2022. In the coming weeks, it will work on fleshing out its strategic approach.
In its current form, the OEP is open to complaints from members of the public about cases of potential non-compliance with environmental law. However, it does not yet have full powers to hold offending bodies to account.
As soon as the OEP receives its full remit in law, Defra has stated, consultations will launch around the evolution of its strategic approach.
Dame Glenys Stacey, formerly of Ofqual, will act as chair and Natalie Prosser, formerly of the Gambling Commission, are currently acting as chief executives of the Interim OEP. Defra has not yet provided an update on whether they will remain in post once the OEP gains functional independence and its full set of proposed powers.
Dame Glenys has previously stated that the OEP will be a “new and powerful independent environmental regulator” that “will be one of the most important organisations of our time”.
However, just two days before the Environment Bill received Royal Assent, opposition MPs and green groups continued to raise concerns around whether the OEP would be truly independent.
Green Alliance has stated that the Bill will allow senior Defra representatives to “interfere in [the] independent process examining whether secretaries of state or public authorities have failed to uphold laws relating to water pollution, air quality or the marine environment”.
The organisation’s Greener UK unit lead Ruth Chambers said: “Peers have repeatedly sought compromise on this issue, but Ministers seem determined to give themselves and their successors the right to meddle in laws governing water quality and air pollution…This is a huge conflict of interest issue for Defra ministers, which must be out of bounds for any Government guidance.”
Environment Secretary Lord Zac Goldsmith has repeatedly claimed that the OEP will be truly independent.