Experts are warning that new laws following Britain’s exit from the EU could have a detrimental impact on protections for the UK’s oceans and countryside.
It comes after a cross-party committee of MPs released its scrutiny report on the proposed Environmental Bill, which is set to come into force after the UK leaves the EU.
The government has said that the UK’s environmental standards would be enhanced after Brexit, but MPs highlighted a number of issues with the planned new laws, warning that implementation of it would see ‘severely downgraded’ environmental protections from the EU standards currently in place.
Mary Creagh, the chair of the EAC, said: “The Environment Bill falls far short of what is needed to protect our environment for the next generations if we leave the EU” and outlined the three key reasons why the draft bill fails to deliver:
- Independence – a watchdog needs independence and bite to ensure compliance. The OEP has neither. Without independence the OEP is another toothless watchdog that can be put down when it becomes inconvenient.
- Climate change missing – Climate Change is the defining challenge of our time, harming us all. If we leave the EU the Environment Bill provides no enforcement body to hold Government to account on climate failure.
- Absurd exclusions – the Environment Bill excludes whole swathes of government policy, from forestry to flooding, taxation and defence and environment principles are watered down. Any exclusions must be narrowly defined & environment principles must be maintained as duties, not nice to haves.
Following the publication of the report, Hugo Tagholm, Chief Executive of Surfers Against Sewage, said:
“ This is a red alert moment for our oceans. We need strong new Environmental laws to keep our seas clean, tackle climate change, protect ocean life and end plastic pollution. We also need to ensure that government, and big business, is held to account at such a critical time for our ocean, which we all depend on to thrive on this planet.”
“Now more than ever we need to show our politicians that we demand much better.”
In the report, it stated of the proposed Bill: “It is a crucial piece of legislation to maintain protection for the environment after leaving the European Union, yet the pre-legislative scrutiny process has identified some serious concerns with the proposals as they currently stand, which must be resolved before the Bill is introduced.”
As well as describing how it is ‘lacking coherence’, the report highlights that the new bill would see ‘many Governmental departments exempt’ from environmental responsibilities – for example, a clause which would leave the Ministry of Defence free from the scrutiny of the UK’s new post-Brexit green watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).
And while the OEP will be responsible for taking businesses, public bodies and the Government to court over breaches of environmental law, it would not actually be authorised to issue fines or place non-compliant organisations into special measures.
Among the exhaustive list of recommendations, which reflect much of the evidence that Surfers Against Sewage, Greener UK and many other stakeholders submitted on the draft bill, the committee is now urging the Government to tighten the legal compliance in a bid to see stricter penalties come into force.
It has also called on Government to drop its disjointed approach to the Bill, which largely focuses on England alone, as well as address the fact that enforcement of climate change mitigation has been deliberately excluded from the scope of the watchdog, OEP, weakening the Climate Change Act.
The EAC’s report follows a four-month period in which the group of MPs gathered evidence from environmental experts and green bodies, such as the Environmental Agency, Natural England, WWF and the National Trust, as well as industry bodies like Energy UK and various water companies, to support their scrutiny of the draft Environmental Bill.
In its conclusion, it has emphasised that drastic changes need to be made before the Brexit deadline in order to fill the gaps and strengthen the law before it is enforced.
Surfers Against Sewage is now urging supporters to make their voices heard and join #GenerationSea by signing their names to a petition which will be delivered to Government, calling on politicians to do better.
Within it, we are urging MPs to create more powerful laws that will act faster on climate change, fully protect areas for sea life to flourish, stop sewage from entering back into the sea and stop plastic pollution from entering our oceans and rivers.
To sign your name, click here.
Written by Hazel Murray on behalf of Surfers Against Sewage