Papers released yesterday detailing the government’s contingencies for a no-deal Brexit scenario reveal departments worryingly underprepared to maintain promised environmental protections, lawyers warn.
Legal experts from environmental law charity ClientEarth have warned that the government’s claims that European Union protections will be fully maintained after Britain leaves the EU ring hollow, and warned that a no-deal is the worst possible scenario for Britain’s natural environment, climate and air quality.
The document release revealed a distinct lack of detail in departmental preparations, across a number of sectors, including general environment standards, vehicle emissions standards, industrial emissions and regulating fluorinated gases and ozone-depleting substances.
This lack of detail was compounded by this week’s National Audit Office report, highlighting how the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) was not adequately prepared for a no-deal, with the department at “high risk of being unable to deliver a full and functioning statute book by end March 2019”.
ClientEarth law and policy advisor Tom West said: “Despite continued assurances that Brexit won’t damage our environment, today’s document release highlights the holes in the government’s contingencies for maintaining current environmental standards in a no-deal situation.
“The government claims that the EU Withdrawal Act and ‘interim measures’ will uphold standards after Britain withdraws, however it is unclear what exactly these essential safeguards would be.
“Essentially these documents ask us to trust that government departments have a no-deal situation covered when only yesterday the National Audit Office highlighted exactly how Defra is unprepared, with ramifications for fisheries, agriculture, chemicals and the natural environment.”
Yesterday’s documents highlighted:
- A lack of detail about whether Defra and its agencies is prepared for regulating fluorinated gases and ozone-depleting substances;
- Potential ‘governance gaps’ in the oversight, monitoring and enforcement of emissions standards for new cars and vans;
- Questions over whether statutory instruments maintaining environmental standards will be ready by March 2019;
- The governance gap for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland persist, as plans for a new statutory body will not apply to the actions of devolved administrations.
There were also concerns of a governance gap between Britain’s withdrawal and when an environment bill is introduced in March 2019 and also governance gaps for what will happen in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
West added: “For the sake of our rivers, forests, bogs and bees and the right of the British public to enjoy them, a no-deal Brexit situation must be avoided at all costs.”