Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about environmental principles and governance after Brexit. I agree that leaving the EU must not lead to any watering down of existing standards.
The Government opened a consultation on an Environmental Principles and Governance Bill in May to explore the scope and content of a new statement of environmental principles. The consultation will also consider what functions and powers a new environmental watchdog should have to oversee environmental policy and law.
I am concerned that, under the proposals in the consultation, we may no longer retain the environmental protections we currently enjoy in the EU. The proposed watchdog is a toothless imitation of current EU institutions, which will advise and lay reports to Parliament with formal action only at the end of numerous bureaucratic hoops. I want to see a world-leading environmental body with independent, statutory backing. The consultation closed on 2 August and the Government says it will bring forward a draft bill this autumn.
As you will be aware, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill received Royal Assent on 26 June. I consistently supported amendments to this legislation to safeguard environmental protections. For example, I supported amendments which would have required the Government to pass primary legislation within six months of Royal Assent, establishing a duty on public authorities to apply principles of EU environmental law and establishing an independent body to monitor compliance of public authorities with environmental law.
While the amendments accepted by the Government in lieu of these proposals offered some helpful developments, they did not ensure that all existing EU rights, powers and liabilities that contribute to the protection and improvement of the environment are preserved under UK law.
The Government has since announced that it will introduce a new Environment Bill. However, I am concerned about the lack of information around this Bill. It is important the Government presents ambitious and concrete measures that recognise the scale of the environmental problems we face. We must make the case for a more progressive, more ambitious domestic environmental policy – not to match EU standards, but to go beyond them.
My Labour colleagues and I will therefore continue to press for environmental standards to be properly protected and enhanced where necessary and to ensure our principle and governance mechanisms are not weakened on exit from the EU. This is vital to secure the future of our natural environment.