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EU Withdrawal Bill risks weakening UK environmental protections

The House of Commons has passed a government amendment about environmental principles and a new green watchdog in the EU Withdrawal Bill, which could weaken protection for the environment in this country.

The new amendment would ensure the green watchdog is given the power to initiate legal action against the government, and enlist a set of environmental principles in primary legislation.

ClientEarth law and policy advisor Tom West said: “It’s encouraging to see the government taking steps to ensure Britain’s environment is protected after Brexit. But as it stands, the EU Withdrawal Bill is still not good enough and risks our environmental protections being much weaker by the time Britain leaves the EU.

“In its current form, the Withdrawal Bill limits the green watchdog’s remit to hold only central government, rather than all public authorities, to account. But the actions of local government and public bodies – implementing things like planning decisions, or management of marine protected areas – need to be regulated as well as Whitehall.

“The government has repeatedly promised to improve environmental standards but with the current bill, it is falling at the first hurdle.”

The vote overturns a stronger Lords’ amendment that was made after the government faced cross-party criticism on its plans for a new green watchdog, which fell way short of expectations.

Speaking to the House of Lords’ EU Committee this morning about air quality, ClientEarth clean air lawyer Katie Nield said: “What is worrying is that recent proposals for a government watchdog lack the teeth. If [existing enforcement mechanisms] are lost once we leave the EU, this could spell very bad things for air quality in this country.”

The House of Lords will now consider the new amendment in parliamentary ‘ping-pong’.

West added: “If the government wants to make good on its ‘world-leading’ promises and improve compliance with environmental law, then there’s still some way to go.”

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Leo Samaraco