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Kerry McCarthy
Kerry McCarthy
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Gove must match his green words with action

Home / News / News from Westminster / Gove must match his green words with action

14 November 2017

So many of the laws that currently protect our wildlife, air, water and climate come from the EU, and are monitored and enforced by EU bodies. Brexit could put all of this at risk.

That is why I have been working with colleagues from across the House to table a series of amendments to the European Union Withdrawal Bill, which has begun its committee stage in the Commons this week.

These amendments are designed to improve the bill and ensure that the conversion of our environmental protections into domestic law is as smooth as possible, leaving no gaps that could lead to future legal uncertainties.

We know that the public is behind us on this. Eighty per cent of the British public think that the UK should have the same or stronger levels of environmental protection after we leave the EU. The government is at least notionally on the same page.

Ministers speak proudly of pledging to leave the environment in a better state than its predecessors, and Michael Gove has talked about wanting to deliver a “green Brexit”.

But at the moment these are just words. Debates on the EU Withdrawal Bill are a timely opportunity to set out exactly how they propose to deliver on these ambitions.

There are three main areas where, I believe, change needs to be made during the parliamentary process to keep up the standard of, and indeed improve, UK environmental protections beyond Brexit.

We risk losing key environmental principles

A particular concern is the loss of environmental principles which underpin many of our strongest protections and provide certainty for individuals, businesses and government.

One example is the precautionary principle, which means risks to people’s health or the environment are taken into account in decision making, even in the absence of full scientific certainty.

This principle led to the creation of an EU-wide ban on the use of certain insecticides on flowering crops. It was thought that they could pose a risk to the health of bee populations, despite there being a lack of scientific proof.

However, research has since confirmed this was the right thing to do, as it has shown that these chemicals are harmful.

MPS will know from the many hundreds of emails they’ve received on this topic that the public does not want to jettison the precautionary principle post-Brexit.

That is why we are pushing for this – and other key principles such as “polluter pays” – to be enshrined in the bill.

The Secretary of State acknowledges the ‘governance gap’

The European Commission and the European Court of Justice have played an important role in enforcing and upholding environmental laws and holding the UK Government to account – Client Earth, for example, has now taken the government to court three times over its failure to act on air pollution.

Beyond Brexit we will need strong and independent institutions that can force future governments, no matter what their composition, to honour their environmental commitments and allow people to challenge breaches of environmental law in the same way they can at present.

Michael Gove has recognised this so-called “governance gap” – indeed he gave a bit more detail this weekend of his plans to create a statutory body that would “hold the powerful to account”.

But we do not know when or how this body will be established – will it be created by secondary legislation or will there be a bill brought forward and if so, when?

And so we must continue to push the Government during committee stage of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, for a firmer commitment to filling the gap.

What happens to our environment should be a top Brexit priority

Along with many of my parliamentary colleagues I have raised concerns about the use of secondary legislation, both before and after Brexit.

The use of so-called Henry VIII powers to amend laws should be a concern for everyone, not just those caught up in the Westminster bubble.

As Defra will have the lion’s share of statutory instruments to convert across Whitehall, this has special relevance to our environment.

There will need to be robust parliamentary scrutiny of any changes made during the conversion of EU law, so as to ensure that existing protections are not lost or watered down.

The people of the UK deserve clean air and water, thriving wildlife, protection from hazardous substances and action on climate change.

They did not vote to lose these protections when they (narrowly) voted for Brexit.

The importance of the EU Withdrawal Bill for the environment cannot be overstated, and I would urge all MPs to put the environment first when it comes to voting this week and during the rest of committee stage.

Kerry McCarthy is Labour MP for Bristol East,%202017&CMP=TNLEmail_118918_2512436_119


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