Post Brexit Environmental Watchdog: will it have teeth?

A letter in today’s FT (May 30) from Victor Anderson Visiting Professor, Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University, UK and Rupert Read Reader in Philosophy, University of East Anglia, UK fears it won’t.

Brexit would remove from the UK the means of enforcing environmental laws and standards that we have now through the European Court of Justice and the European Commission. Who will do that job in future (May 25)?

Michael Gove promised a new environment watchdog to take on that role. However, the House of Commons environment select committee reported opposition and lack of enthusiasm from government departments other than that of the environment, Defra. Mr Gove’s watchdog proposals failed to appear.

The Lords took the matter up in its scrutiny of the EU Withdrawal Bill, with a widely supported amendment to require the government to set up the watchdog Mr Gove had promised. They were only persuaded not to put their amendment to a vote when the Brexit minister in the House, Lord Callanan, said the government would after all produce its proposals very soon.

Those have now appeared, and they reflect the divisions in the government. A compromise has been reached: let’s have a new watchdog but make it a toothless one. The government proposes that the new body will not be able to initiate legal action, will have no legal obligation to operate the current environmental principles such as the precautionary one and polluter pays, and will be kept out of anything to do with climate change.

The Lords then came back to this issue, went ahead with a vote, and defeated the government. The next stage is for their amendment to be considered by the Commons. We urge MPs to stand firm to protect our environment and insist on setting up a watchdog that can actually hold the government to account, in the way that European institutions have been able to do on the UK’s scandalous failure to achieve reasonably safe air quality standards.

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