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Environmental protection plans still ‘woolly’ warns EAC

The Government is refusing to act over concerns that a third of EU legislation that cannot be ’cut and pasted’ into UK law through the EU (Withdrawal) Act may be lost after Brexit, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has warned.

It has raised the alarm repeatedly about environmental protection post-Brexit, and this latest criticism was made in response to publication of the Government’s 25-year plan for the environment.

A row over the role of the so-called ‘green-watchdog’ has also reignited because the EAC and green groups have argued that such a body would need to have “teeth”, be accountable to Parliament and be able to hold all public bodies to account.

The concern is that after Britain leaves the EU, there will be no UK body to replace the role of the European Commission or the European Environment Agency, which has the same clout. While the Government has now agreed to try to have the watchdog in place “as soon as it practically achievable” in the event of a no-deal Brexit, there is still no agreement on the strength and extent of its powers.

EAC chair Mary Creagh MP said: “The Government’s woolly response makes no firm commitments on the future governance of the environment after Brexit, which is of great concern given that the Agriculture Bill is making its way through Parliament.

“If we want a world-leading environment, we need a strong, independent environmental watchdog which ministers cannot quietly put to sleep. The Government’s draft Bill must make the new watchdog accountable to Parliament.

“It is deeply worrying that the response does not commit to replace the one-third of EU environmental legislation that cannot be copied and pasted into UK law after Brexit. It should set five-yearly wildlife budgets so that people can see taxpayers’ money being spent on public goods like flood prevention, protecting species from extinction and restoring our soils.”

Local Government Association (LGA) environment spokesman Martin Tett said: “The new body that the Government has proposed to oversee the environment plan should focus on making sure that national measures, designed to protect the environment post-Brexit, are kept in place and look to our national responsibilities, not hinder our local responses. It is essential that local government has a seat at the table of any newly created environment body.

“We look forward to seeing more detail in the Government’s forthcoming Resources and Waste Strategy as to the future direction the Government will set on how we will protect the environment, and to review funding levels fundamentally for local environmental protection schemes.

“When it comes to our environment, change shouldn’t be enforced from the top down but come from the bottom up. The plans to make our environment cleaner and safer for all should be rooted in our communities, not in Whitehall.”

The EAC has welcomed news that the Government will produce annual progress reports on its 25-year plan, and that a set of metrics and indices to measure this are being developed. The Government has also committed to audit the main existing environmental targets that contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

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