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Brexit 'threat to environment' say MPs

Brexit poses a potential threat to environmental policies, according to a parliamentary inquiry.

MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) said in a probe of the Government’s future policy: “We believe that leaving the EU poses a potential threat to delivering the goals set out in the Government’s 25-Year Plan for the Environment in terms of the risk of reduced standards, lower enforcement powers, the threats to common frameworks and regulatory oversight.”

Their report The Government’s 25-Year Plan for the Environment called for the creation a new independent oversight body, named the Environmental Enforcement and Audit Office (EEAO), which would be modelled on spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO).

It said this would be vital to ensure that the governance, enforcement, oversight and policy functions currently carried out by the European Commission and European Court of Justice would not be lost after the UK leaves the EU.

Defra is currently running a consultation on a post-Brexit environmental watchdog to provide “independent scrutiny and advice on existing and future Government environmental law and policy”. It will also respond to complaints about the Whitehall’s delivery of environmental law.

The EAC said there was “a worrying lack of detail” in the 25-year plan and legally binding targets should be introduced on key environmental indicators.

Among its roles, the EEAO would oversee all public authorities, and have powers to take them and the Government to court where standards were breached. Like the NAO, it would be accountable to Parliament rather the Government to ensure its independence.

EAC chair Mary Creagh (pictured) said: “If we want a world-leading environment we need a world-leading environmental watchdog.

“The Government’s 25-year plan is high on ambitions, but low on milestones. The Government has more experience of getting rid of environmental watchdogs than of setting them up.

“We want an Environmental Governance and Principles Act that sets legally binding targets and creates a new environment office to measure progress and enforce this new law.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “Our environment plan sets out in detail how we will improve our environment for the next generation, and we have already taken significant steps to deliver this pledge.

“We are bringing forward the first Environment Bill in more than 20 years, and are now consulting on a world-leading body to hold the Government to account on environmental standards.”

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