The UK’s environmental ambitions in areas such as waste will not be ‘watered down’ following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, environment secretary Andrea Leadsom has insisted.
Addressing members of the Environmental Audit Committee at a meeting in Westminster this afternoon (October 25), Mrs Leadsom rejected a suggestion from committee chair Mary Creagh that environmental issues may be ‘de-prioritised’ without pressure from the EU.
“I do not see why there is any sense in which the goals of good environmental outcomes will be watered down in any way”, she said. “We have very clear goals around issues such as air quality, waste… Those commitments will be enhanced by our ability to take our place on a world stage.”
Mrs Leadsom added that it was a manifesto commitment for the government to be the ‘first’ generation to leave the environment in a better state than they found it, with plans for a 25-year environmental plan framework due to be published “within the next few months”. And, she said that leaving the EU provided more flexibility to enable this to happen.
“We have a total commitment to make progress on key environmental issues”, she said. “We can focus on what works for the UK and not what works for 28 member states”.
During the meeting, Mrs Leadsom was also questioned about the process by which her department, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), is managing Brexit.
She explained that Defra is currently working to help bring all EU environmental legislation – which makes up around 25% of EU law – into UK law under the Great Repeal Bill.
“When we bring this EU legislation into UK law that will include all of the current targets so we will have to take a specific, legislative action to change specific parts. We won’t be creating a vacuum or a void by nationalising it.
“At our leisure we will be able to repeal, amend, strengthen… For environmental groups I think the certainty of the Great Repeal Bill will be a great comfort to them.”
“We think that about two thirds of that 25% of legislation that we are intending to bring into UK law will be able to roll forward with just some minor technical changes. Roughly a third won’t. Each week I have one or two meetings with our team to discuss exactly where we are at.”
Mrs Leadsom declined to reveal details of which legislation might be problematic but indicated that issues may be “technical” or relate to activities monitored somewhere else in the EU. She indicated that some monitoring and other activities may need to be ‘repatriated’ to the UK’.
“I do not see why there is any sense in which the goals of good environmental outcomes will be watered down in any way.”
Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary
However, when asked if there might be a need for a new environmental court to replace the function of the European Court of Justice in handling environmental cases, she said: “The UK courts will be perfectly able to deal with any issues of enforcement. We won’t need to replace European Courts.”
Earlier in the day, the committee also heard from Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, who insisted that the Agency’s role as environmental regulator would largely remain the same post Brexit. But, he highlighted the opportunity for improvements in some areas of EU law.
He said: “My greatest fear is that we don’t seize the opportunity we have. Whatever we think of EU legislation…a lot has generated benefit but not all is perfect… some focuses on processes rather than outcomes.”
He added: “My fear is we don’t take the opportunity to develop a better environmental framework. We have got a commitment to nationalise EU legislation, we have the opportunity to decide what will stay, what will be repealed, what will be reformed.”
Source: letsrecycle.com General