By Henri Brocklebank
Head of Conservation
Sussex Wildlife Trust have been anxious about the implications of the Withdrawal Bill on our UK Environmental Policy. Transposing environmental laws is not enough if you don’t have the legal framework in which to police it. A month ago Tony Whitbread, our Chief Executive wrote to all Sussex MPs to ask them to get involved in the debate to put in place a robust system for ensuring that the UK is actually accountable (whereas the European Court would have provided that framework previously). Some of our Sussex MPs replied immediately pledging their support, which was extremely encouraging.
Last night the Withdrawal Bill was debated in Westminster. The session was focused on environmental principles, and we understand that there was broad support for the value of the principles. Oliver Lewtin (Cabinet Member in charge of the Brexit-unit) also made some notable contributions (with Michael Gove in the Chamber) on an environmental protection Bill and environmental governance - here is a quick summary from The Wildlife Trusts:
- Oliver Letwin suggested an environmental protection Bill coming forward. Gove indicated that the possibility of proper environmental legislation in the form of a new statute is on his mind. Letwin also said he was “really confident” that Gove intends to put in place an environment Act, which would have to be underpinned by the environment plan, in place by the time we leave the EU.
- Letwin went on to say he does not believe that even the combination of an environmental protection Bill and an National Policy Statement emerging from it and under it would be sufficient. He indicated that he has agreed with Gove that it is necessary under that same statute to create a body which is a prosecutorial authority. This body would be established under statute, and charged with a duty under statute to ensure that the National Policy Statement is observed.
- In answer to Caroline Lucas, Letwin confirmed that this body would have the same power of sanction as the European Court of Justice, in the ability to fine Governments, because this body will be able to take the Government to court, which have the power to injunct.
- Letwin said that Gove is not envisaging anything remotely like the Environment Agency or Natural England. This agency will not be an agency of the state but will be independent of the Government and will continuously be judging the Government's actions, taking on board the complaints of others, and using their expertise.
So in summary, this is good news for the Natural Environment and good news that the Minister is taking positive steps towards guaranteeing the protection of our natural environment post Brexit. The Wildlife Trusts have worked hard on this, as well as each individual Trust and their supporters lobbying local MPs.