From climate change and conservation to food and farming, the UK’s environmental policy has developed in close partnership with the European Union in the last 40 years of membership. Given these ties, the legislation, governance and funding surrounding environmental policy in the UK will need to be closely re-evaluated – and strengthened – in the context of leaving the EU.
Addressing these concerns, Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee published a report at the beginning of January 2017 on the future of our environment post-Brexit. The Committee warns of the overall possibility of ‘zombie legislation’ weakening environmental policy. Such legislation is defined as “EU legislation transposed into UK law which is no longer updated and which can be eroded through statutory instruments with minimal parliamentary scrutiny.” This means that while EU Regulations and Directives presiding over environmental policy would formally remain law, they would lack the governance necessary to protect and enforce them.
Despite the apocalyptic terminology, the risk of ‘zombie legislation’ does not spell certain doom for the UK’s food, farming and natural environment. To avoid it, the Environmental Audit Committee recommends introducing a new Environmental Protection Act to maintain and enforce environmental standards before triggering Article 50. This would effectively enshrine current environmental policy principles in UK statutory law, ensuring that they continue to be governed, improved, and enforced within the country.
The road to an Environmental Protection Act is long and uncertain. On the same day that the Environmental Audit published their warnings and recommendations, environment secretary Andrea Leadsom promised farmers to scrap legislation relating to the EU Common Agricultural Policy and a brave new world free of bureaucracy and red tape. We’ve heard it before and we’ll hear it again – Brexit isn’t just a challenge, but an opportunity. The issue remains as to which opportunities we’ll seize, and how. With so many of our fundamental rights at stake – including the right to a healthy, sustainably-managed natural environment – we must continue to fight for representation and consultation in the Brexit process.