MPs are calling for a new Environmental Protection Bill to be added to the government’s list of policy priorities for the year ahead as laid out in last week’s Queen’s Speech.
Led by Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, the environment amendment has cross-party support from Labour MPs David Lammy and Kerry McCarthy, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, the Scottish National Democrat MP Chris Law, and Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts.
The amendment, which was introduced last week and will likely be voted for on Thursday June 29, states that “in negotiating our future relationship with the EU, the Government should opt for the most environmentally effective way forward.”
This includes introducing a new bill to “transfer all relevant EU law into domestic law by way of primary legislation”. This legislation should include “the meaningful transfer of existing targets and to set new and ambitious targets” as well as provide access to citizens to environmental justice.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, Lucas said “a Bill on environmental protection is conspicuous by its absence. Given the significance of the EU’s role in environmental protection, I think that this is a particularly grave omission on the part of the government’s Brexit team.”
The Queen’s speech last week introduced this year’s legislative program, the majority of which is concerned with leaving the EU. The only mention of climate change came when the Queen reiterated support for the Paris climate agreement.
Since then Theresa May’s government has officially announced its deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The DUP was called “dinosaurs” in Parliament by Lucas last week following the Queen’s speech due to their history of climate denial and denying the science behind evolution.
In a statement to DeSmog UK, Lucas said: “It’s astounding that the Queen’s Speech didn’t contain plans for a bill to protect the environment in the Brexit process. The Government is aiming to pass eight separate pieces of Brexit legislation, yet they’re leaving environmental protection behind despite 80 percent of our laws in that area coming from the EU.”
She continued: “I’d urge MPs from all parties to back my call for an Environmental Protection Act. Such a bill would both strengthen our environmental laws and ensure that a legal and regulatory framework is in place to enforce them.”
Currently the government’s plan is to translate all EU environmental laws into British law via the Great Repeal Bill. However, concerns have been raised about how these new environmental standards will be adopted and effectively enforced once the UK officially leaves the EU.
Andrea Leadsom, while in her role as Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, acknowledged that one third of all environmental legislation would be extremely difficult to simply cut and paste from EU to UK law.
And there are concerns that once laws are transferred they’ll become what has been dubbed “zombie-legislation” – where rules exist but there’s no effective way to monitor or enforce them.
In March, the EU Select Committee report on Brexit and Climate Change found there was little confidence in the UK government’s ability to hold itself to account without an independent domestic enforcement mechanism being set up.
There are currently no details about how the EU’s system of checks and balances on environmental rules will be replaced in the UK.
Labour MP Kerry McCarthy told DeSmog UK: “As the Environmental Audit Committee warned earlier this year, there is a real danger that environmental protections could be weakened after Brexit.
“We called for an Environmental Protection Act, and it is very disappointing to see that this wasn’t included in the Queen’s Speech. It’ s not surprising though, given the Government’s inability to see that environmental laws are not ‘bureaucracy’ or ‘red tape’ but are vital protections for things we hold dear: clean air, clean water, biodiversity, and the beautiful British landscape.
“It is a shame that no Conservative MPs signed the amendment, but I hope that the Government will reflect on the strong support across the House for the environment to be protected post-Brexit. I hope other MPs will join me in fighting for this.”
When asked by Lucas on Monday June 26 why there was no environment bill in the Queen’s speech to address these concerns Brexit secretary David Davis said “relevant administrations and regulatory bodies” will be created to oversee legislation when the laws are transferred over.
He added: “Of course, development beyond that will come later, but at the moment we are talking about bringing the whole corpus of EU environmental law into British law. That is not nothing, by any stretch of the imagination.”
But as Lucas added: “Let us also be honest about the fact that a small but vocal part of the right wing sees Brexit as an opportunity for mass deregulation. A fight is coming … No one voted on 23 June last year to scrap our environmental legislation, yet there is a real risk of that happening unless we enshrine it in a new environmental protection Act.”