Over 80% of our environmental legislation comes from the EU, peers in the House of Lords said last week. Will Brexit be a complication or a liberation? Catherine Paice reports.
Animal rights protector Baroness Parminter (Lib Dem), who reportedly a faux ermine, was not alone in suggesting last week that peers would “vigorously oppose any watering down of environmental outcomes of EU legislation moved into British statute books”.
Lady Parminter had proposed a motion that the House take note of the future of environmental and climate change policy in light of Brexit. The CAP provides much of the funding for the conservation of biodiversity although, the Baroness pointed out, it had also been a driver of damage. Linking agricultural and land management policy to the provision of public goods would secure the political will to maintain farm support, she suggested.
The government had confirmed that EU law would be transposed into domestic law on the day that the UK leaves the EU, she noted. However, this did not mean that environmental policy gains built up over 40 years were secure, not least because the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, had since added the phrase “wherever practicable”. Farm minister George Eustice has called the birds and habitat directive “spirit-crushing” and was heard commenting that some area designations were an example of its inflexibility.
“Given the complexities of these negotiations, there is a real danger that environmental issues will be marginalised, particularly as it appears that Defra has transferred only eight staff to the Brexit unit,” Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab) interjected.
“Not only has DEFRA a severely depleted number of staff in its agencies due to sustained budget cuts, it will lose access to EU institutions and funding for research programmes and the vital collaborations that come with them,” she said. So what reassurances can be given about UK capacity post-Brexit to continue to develop evidence-based environmental policy?
“We all agree with the high-flown sentiments but they simply must be reconciled with sustainable economic growth and sustainable financing models,” the Earl of Selborne (Con) suggested.
Taking the hot seat, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DEFRA, Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con) reassured peers that stakeholder meetings were in motion, the Natural Capital Committee was being consulted, and the proposed 25-year Environment Plan (framework to be announced shortly with a view to publishing next year) will be developed to dovetail with and sit alongside the 25-year Food and Farming plan.
The government is committed to the Paris agreement for climate change, he added, and will also continue to honour its obligations—those contained in the numerous multilateral environmental agreements reached as a result of global action on environmental protection—to which the UK is a party to in its own right.
“Engagement with local communities will allow everyone to understand better how agriculture and land management can work in harmony with improving our environment and, for instance, coping with flood risk,” he said.
The motion was carried.