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A new environment watchdog for the UK?

A new body might replace the European Commission in enforcing environmental law in the UK according to remarks made to MPs by Michael Gove this week.

The Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said a new ‘commission-like body’ will probably be required to address the governance gap that will be left after Brexit.

ClientEarth Director of Programmes Karla Hill said: “We welcome the Secretary of State’s recognition that we’ll need a new body to enforce environment law once we leave the EU.

“EU institutions oversee much of the proper implementation and compliance of our environmental law. Outside of the EU, the UK needs a fully independent body with real powers to make sure our governments live up to their environmental commitments – or we risk environmental law being ignored.

“Giving citizens a voice to protect the environment by improving access to justice rules is vital, but it’s only one part of the picture. A new body (or bodies) will work alongside people to secure environmental democracy.”

Questioned by the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Mr Gove acknowledged that “judicial review probably won’t be enough” to replace the European Commission and European Court of Justice. He signalled the government would hold a consultation on the role and powers a new body might have, ideally while the UK is still in the EU.

Gove said: “‘Unless you have some means of holding governments and other public bodies to account then there is always the danger that environmental damage can be generated or inflicted without an appropriate means of ensuring that in the broadest sense, justice can be done.”

Karla added: “We couldn’t agree more with Mr Gove that government should be accountable, and we look forward to working with him to make sure the UK establishes a robust and effective accountability system.”

Read ClientEarth’s briefing on the Withdrawal Bill here.

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Aaron Burden

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