As MPs are now debating the landmark European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, leading environmental scientists, engineers, ecologists and water and waste experts have called for meaningful parliamentary scrutiny of environmental policies and laws.
Whilst the Conservative Government committed in its manifesto to "be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it inherited" and Environment Secretary Michael Gove has talked of his ambition for a "Green Brexit", a range of professional bodies have warned that the EU Withdrawal Bill "gravely threatens" the ability to achieve either.
In letters to Michael Gove and David Davis, the institutes have warned that the Bill fails to adequately provide for parliamentary scrutiny of the raft of changes required to make environmental laws function, ensure the fundamental principles which underpin decades of environmental improvement are protected, or provide a meaningful framework for independent scrutiny of future Government performance on the environment. They also warned that devolved administrations should not be constrained from pursuing ambitious environmental policies and targets of their own as a result of the powers the Bill creates.
The bodies have called for the legal establishment of a new body, answerable to Parliament and fully independent of Government which would help provide the kind of scrutiny currently provided by the European Commission. In the past this has allowed citizens and organisations to take governments to court over failing to meet legal obligations such as on air quality. The bodies have also called for parliamentary committees to rubber stamp or call in for scrutiny the large number of laws which Ministers can approve, under so called 'Henry VIII powers', as EU laws are made workable in the UK.
Environmental Policy Forum Chair, Professor Will Pope said: "The Government has welcome ambitions for the environment, with a new 25 year plan imminent and a commitment to improve environmental quality for future generations. Yet plans without appropriate tools and measures for delivery and scrutiny will be doomed to failure. Brexit offers certain opportunities to manage our environment in a more effective manner, more bespoke to UK needs. Yet it also presents real risks that measures which have achieved cleaner rivers, seas, towns and cities could be eroded. We are calling for appropriate checks and balances to be established from the outset, to ensure we do not risk becoming the 'dirty man of Europe' again."
The briefing sent to Ministers can be found at www.ciwem.org/brexit