Government maintains environmental laws in Repeal Bill

The government has today (13 July) published its long-anticipated Repeal Bill, which is designed to convert existing EU laws into UK domestic law as the country exits the European Union.

Formally titled the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the legislation is intended to provide ‘legal certainty’ ahead of the UK’s withdrawal from the Union.

Government’s Repeal Bill was published today (13 July)

In documents published alongside the Bill, government has confirmed that it will seek to convert ‘the existing body of EU environmental law into UK law, making sure the same protections are in place in the UK and laws still function effectively after the UK leaves the EU.’

This essentially means that key pieces of legislation, including the Ambient Air Quality Directive – which sets legal limits for the emission of air pollutants – will continue to apply until the point at which the UK government lays fresh legislation in its place.

And, the government has promised to produce a ‘comprehensive’ 25 Year Environment Plan, which will set out how it plans to “improve our environment as we leave the European Union and take control of our environmental legislation again.”

The government stated: “We remain committed to safeguarding and protecting the UK’s long history of environmental protection. The Bill will incorporate existing EU environmental law into UK law and, as such, is intended to give certainty and continuity to business and organisations. We will also uphold our obligations under international environmental treaties.

“Any future changes to our legislation will be subject to the usual parliamentary scrutiny. We will work closely with communities, environmental organisations and other stakeholders to help build our future plans for environmental protection.”

Introducing the legislation today, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, said: “This Bill means that we will be able to exit the European Union with maximum certainty, continuity and control. That is what the British people voted for and it is exactly what we will do – ensure that the decisions that affect our lives are taken here in the UK.

“It is one of the most significant pieces of legislation that has ever passed through Parliament and is a major milestone in the process of our withdrawal from the European Union.”

Concerns

Since voting to leave the EU last June, air quality campaigners have expressed concerns that future ambitions to clean up the UK’s air could be watered down once the UK is no longer tied-in to European legislation.

As an EU member state, the UK faces the potential for infraction proceedings from the European Court of Justice if it fails to meet air pollution limits required by EU law.

Once the UK has left the EU, it will be the responsibility of Parliament to hold government to account over its environmental responsibilities, the repeal bill documents suggest. Decisions and actions of public authorities will be open to challenge through the judicial review system, the document adds.

Commenting on the Bill, Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Green Party, has said that there is an ‘environment-shaped hole’ in the proposals, and expressed concerns over the enforcement of environmental laws in future.

She said: “There’s an enormous environment-shaped hole in the government’s Brexit plans. The Repeal Bill may transfer EU laws onto the British statute, but there’s no provision here for ensuring that these laws are properly enforced by institutions in the UK. The government knows that this simple transfer isn’t enough to ensure that our environment is protected – and their refusal to legislate for specific environmental protections and enforcement is reckless.

“I’ll be working with fellow MPs to table amendments to the Repeal Bill, specifically in order to force the Government to ensure that environmental laws are properly enforced as we go through the Brexit process.”