At the end of last year, Defra published its draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, which set out how the government will maintain environmental standards after the UK leaves the EU and how it will build on the vision of its broader 25-year Environment Plan.
The bill was needed, and needed quickly, as Britain rushed towards that well-publicised diary date of 29th March 2019 – Brexit day. After all, it was setting out how the country would uphold standards in the post-EU world.
In particular, the bill recommended setting up an independent body – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – which would take over responsibility for scrutinising environmental law, investigating complaints, and taking enforcement action if needed. For example, it would have the ability to challenge local authorities if they were not acting in compliance with environmental controls or waste legislation.
The bill was broadly welcomed. At the UK Environmental Law Association (Ukela), the independent organisation of environmental lawyers, consultants and other specialists.
Angus Evers, co-chair of Ukela’s Brexit Task Force says: ‘The opportunities for developing environmental law and policy after Brexit are significant.
The draft bill is a bold attempt at ensuring the UK’s environmental standards do not slip, but are maintained and even enhanced.’
The first half of the bill looked at the principles and governance side of things.
The second half of the bill on the other hand, is to be more above the policies and strategies being consulted on. This would include everything from air quality and natural capital to waste and resources.
Brexit uncertainty has huge implications for Defra, and the waste and resources sector as a whole.
Currently, a large proportion of UK environmental law derives from the EU, its implementation monitored and enforced by EU mechanisms and institutions, primarily the European Commission. According to Defra, more than 80 per cent of its work is affected by Brexit.
The type of Brexit achieved could also affect a key component of the bill – the establishment of the new watchdog, the OEP. In April, Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced that a ‘shadow body’, headed by an eminent environmental lawyer, may be required as an interim watchdog for the sector in the event of a ‘no deal.
Taken from ciwm-journal.co.uk/circular/May/June 2019