A recent report produced by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is appealing to the Government to introduce a new Environmental Protection Act as part of the Article 50 negotiations for Brexit. The report entitled The Future of the Natural Environment after the EU Referendum presents the findings of the first of a series of inquiries that the committee will be undertaking as the UK prepares to leave the EU.
The committee looked at the international, legislative and financial issues that the government must manage to ensure that standards are maintained and protect the Governments manifesto commitment to “be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it”. Currently much of the funding for environmental protection is provided by the EU which has provided a common framework for members to develop their own environmental policies. The EAC states that the government must define clear objectives for future environmental protection and allocate the required resources in order to deliver those objectives.
The report includes 7 recommendations that should be acted upon by DEFRA and other government departments both prior to article 50 negotiations and in the months after negotiations begin. Without such actions the UK risks weakening environmental protections disrupting food production and presenting risks for farm businesses, leading to further degradation of the UK’s natural assets and higher costs of subsequent intervention.
The EAC’s recommendations are
- (1) In order to meet its manifesto commitment to “be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it”, the Government must, before triggering Article 50, commit to legislating for a new Environmental Protection Act, ensuring that the UK has an equivalent or better level of environmental protection as in the EU.
- (2) Government must, as part of its initial work to leave the EU, assess the resources necessary to replace existing EU environmental funding to ensure that farm businesses remain viable, and that animal welfare, food security and food safety are protected, both in the UK and the Overseas Territories. Government must also provide evidence to allay our scepticism over the capacity of Defra to meet the additional pressures that exiting the EU creates for meeting the Government’s manifesto commitment in a cost-effective manner alongside its non-environmental priorities.
- (3) Government must recognise the interdependence of its two 25 year plans and ensure that they are fully coordinated as part of a combined negotiating strategy, including providing clarity on how the links will be communicated and acted upon. The plan frameworks should be published and consulted on before Article 50 is triggered so as to inform the Government’s negotiating position and form the basis of a new Environmental Protection Act.
- (4) The EU negotiations led by the Prime Minister and supported by DExEU must address the impact of international issues, including future trade arrangements, on the UK environment and agriculture. The Birds and Habitats directives are at risk even if the UK remains a member of the EEA. If the UK leaves the Single Market then the Government should state clearly what new measures need to be put in place to maintain food safety and security, protect British agriculture from tariff and non-tariff barriers and ensure the UK maintains our current level of environmental protection. The Government should also undertake a gap analysis to establish whether additional animal welfare and food safety standards legislation is necessary.
- (5) Before Article 50 is triggered the Government must identify legislation which may be difficult to transpose to ensure full public and parliamentary debate and scrutiny. The Government should introduce a new Environmental Protection Act to maintain and enforce environmental standards after we leave. This is needed to ensure environmental standards are not weakened when we leave the EU–whether through leaving the Single Market, changes in trading status or through the creation of “zombie legislation” resulting from our departure from EU governance and enforcement structures. Government should address the resource implications of this for Defra. Finally, the Government should guarantee that it will not trade away environmental protections, animal welfare and food safety standards, as part of the negotiations to leave, or as part of future trade deals.
- (6) Before Britain leaves the EU the Government must have clearly established the environmental objectives and governance model to be used for any future land management payments. Objectives should be clearly linked to the public goods that are to be achieved through funding rather than simply providing income support to farmers: these public goods should be supported by strong evidence of the benefits they provide and the market failure they correct. The Government must produce evidence which enables an outcomes focussed approach and supports innovation.
- (7) Defra must, as part of leaving the EU, ensure that plans for post-EU environmental coordination between the countries of the UK is sufficient to ensure that funding is allocated fairly and transparently, with shared strategic objectives complemented by minimum environmental standards, so that the UK can continue to meet its international obligations. The Overseas Territories must also receive sufficient funding and support to ensure they can meet their international obligations.