The Great Repeal Bill white paper, published last month, has stated the Bill “will ensure the whole body of existing EU environmental law continues to have effect in UK law”. The white paper added: “The Government is committed to ensuring that we become the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.”
CIWM chief executive Dr Colin Church said: “The Government has repeatedly committed itself to ‘leaving the environment in a better state than we found it’. This will require ambition, a robust policy framework, and an understanding of the key role that regulation plays both in safeguarding environmental protection standards and promoting and supporting innovation and resource efficiency in all its forms.
“It is a commitment that must be observed both in the Brexit negotiations and as we convert EU law into UK law through the Great Repeal Bill," continued Church. "It does not mean a ‘bonfire’ of the essential protections that the UK has helped to develop and put in place as an EU Member; instead, it means Government working closely with the relevant sectors and organisations to ensure that UK environmental policy evolves into an even better and more effective framework.
According to the Government: “The UK’s current legislative framework at national, EU and international level has delivered tangible environmental benefits, such as cleaner rivers and reductions in emissions in sulphur dioxide and ozone depleting substances emissions. Many existing environmental laws also enshrine standards that affect the trade in products and substances across different markets, within the EU as well as internationally.”
The Government stressed that in order to achieve a stable and smooth [Brexit] transition, it’s “overall approach is to convert the body of existing EU law into domestic law, after which Parliament (and, where appropriate, the devolved legislatures) will be able to decide which elements of that law to keep, amend or repeal once we have left the EU. This ensures that, as a general rule, the same rules and laws will apply after we leave the EU as they did before.”
The white paper also pointed to the scale of the task facing the Government: “There is no single figure for how much EU law already forms part of UK law. According to EUR-Lex, the EU’s legal database, there are currently over 12,000 EU regulations in force (this includes amending regulations as well as delegated and implementing regulations).
“As the Great Repeal Bill White Paper notes, there is a lot of work to be done to ensure the transition is smooth,” added the CIWM chief executive. “There is a degree of reassurance to be had from the White Paper that the Government recognises the need to maintain a balance between scrutiny and speed. It also provides clarity that the scope of the powers being conferred through the Bill are limited to the task of conversion, not substantive amendment to the legislation.
“Elements that are particularly welcome include the provisions on the continuity of CJEU Case Law, which is so important to the interpretation of UK waste law, and the acknowledgement of the need to observe the intent behind the legislation as set out in the relevant treaties, which for our sector includes the ‘precautionary principle’ and the ‘polluter pays’ principle. The commitment to delivering an approach that works across UK is also welcome and, given that environment policy is a devolved responsibility, we look forward to further clarity on how this might be achieved.”
However, the CIWM chief executive warned: “A number of significant questions remain unanswered, however, including the status of European Commission guidance designed to assist in the interpretation of legislation and the question of enforcement and especially what mechanism will replace the role of the CJEU and the Commission in this respect. Just last month, the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee warned of an impending ‘vacuum’ in the enforcement of environmental law as the UK leaves the EU and the Government must not duck this issue.”
The white paper said the Government is “mindful of the need to ensure that the right balance is struck between the need for scrutiny and the need for speed. This White Paper is the beginning of a discussion between Government and Parliament as to the most pragmatic and effective approach to take in this area.”
Robbie Staniforth, commercial manager with compliance scheme and resource efficiency specialist, Ecosurety welcomed the white paper.
"It is good to see environmental legislation mentioned in the paper, particularly around leaving the environment in better state. However, it sounds suspiciously like hot air," said Staniforth. "Being in or out will have no effect on whether the government leaves office with the environment in a fitter state as it will still be relying on the framework and leadership of the EU by the time of the next general election in May 2020. The paper itself acknowledges there won’t be the time or focus required to upgrade or improve legislation in the years between now and then. We also feel there is a lack of vision on the environment beyond 2019/2020 from the Government, and this paper confirms our concerns there is a leadership void in this area."