Concerns intensified this week that Brexit would create huge gaps in UK environment law.
MPs from the House of Commons environmental audit committee said the government had offered only a “woolly response” to their assessment of the government’s 25-year environment plan.
The committee found that the plan lacked specific actions and legislation, with few measurable targets. The government’s response to their recommendations, published this week, offered little reassurance, MPs said.
“The Government’s woolly response makes no firm commitments on the future governance of the environment after Brexit, which is of great concern, given that the Agriculture Bill is making its way through Parliament,” said committee chair Mary Creagh.
She also said it was “deeply worrying” that the response does not commit to replace the one third of EU environmental legislation that cannot be copied and pasted into UK law after Brexit. “[The government] should set five yearly wildlife budgets, so people can see taxpayers’ money being spent on public goods like flood prevention, protecting species from extinction and restoring our soils.”
The government did commit to produce annual progress reports on the 25-year plan and report on changes in a suite of environmental indicators and metrics that are currently under development. It also agreed with the committee’s recommendation to undertake an audit of the main existing environmental targets that contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
DEFRA is also “stepping up preparations” to make sure that a new statutory body is in place “as soon as is practically achievable in the event of a no deal exit, with the necessary powers to review and, if necessary, take enforcement action in respect of ongoing breaches of environmental law after the jurisdiction of the CJEU [Court of Justice of the European Union] has ended. This will mean that the government will be held accountable as under existing EU law from the day we leave the EU.”
This week the Guardian reported of “panic” at DEFRA after a leaked document revealed the emergency redeployment of staff to prepare for a no-deal scenario. Managers at the Environment Agency were reportedly given just 24 hours to name 75 staff to be sent to DEFRA