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Government is “worryingly complacent” about post-Brexit environmental enforcement

DEFRA faces an “enormous challenge” as it sets about disentangling the UK’s environmental and climate change standards from the EU, according to the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment sub-committee.

In a report published this week – “Brexit: environment and climate change” – the cross party group of peers noted how membership of the EU has had a “fundamental impact on environmental legislation in the UK, and withdrawal from the EU will affect nearly every aspect of the UK’s environmental policy”.

The Great Repeal Bill, expected later this year, will help to achieve a degree of stability, the sub-committee concluded, but “it is far from clear whether it will be comprehensive”. Indeed, in her evidence to the inquiry, DEFRA secretary of state Andrea Leadsom admitted that about two-thirds of the green legislation the government is intending to bring into UK law will be fairly straightforward, leaving roughly a third that will be far trickier to embed.

The report notes that domestic environment legislation and policy will be more vulnerable to short term, unpredictable changes after Brexit. The sub-committee also suggested that the government appears “worryingly complacent” about the loss of the EU’s enforcement regime. “…in order to fill the vacuum post-Brexit, an effective and independent domestic enforcement mechanism, underpinned by judicial oversight, will be needed,” the group concluded.

Sub-committee chair Lord Teverson explained: “The bottom line is that if the UK fails to honour EU environmental law, it will end up in court. That’s going to change after Brexit, but the vast majority of our witnesses were emphatic that an effective and independent domestic enforcement mechanism will still be needed.”

On climate change, the UK will lose its strongest allies when it leaves the EU. The government should therefore seek other countries to align with in order to continue to lead and influence global climate action, the report recommends.

A poll by YouGov and Friends of the Earth in September last year showed that 83% of the public support at least the same, if not higher, levels of protection for wildlife and natural resources following Brexit.