Regulations which protect the environment could become useless ‘zombie legislation’ if the Government fails to maintain the UK’s strong environmental record post-Brexit.
In a new report, The Future of Natural Environment After EU Referendum, published by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) today (Wednesday, January 4), MPs called on the Government to introduce a new Environmental Protection Act during Article 50 negotiations to ensure the UK’s environmental standards were not weakened outside Europe and to provide assurances over farm subsidies.
EAC chairman Mary Creagh said: “Changes from Brexit could put our countryside, farming and wildlife at risk. Protections for Britain’s wildlife and special places currently guaranteed under European law could end up as zombie legislation even with the Great Repeal Bill.
“UK farming faces significant risks – from a loss of subsidies and tariffs on farm exports, to increased competition from countries with weaker food, animal welfare and environmental standards. The Government must not trade away these key protections as we leave the EU. It should also give clarity over any future farm subsidies."
The report looked at the legislative, trade, and financial issues and made recommendations for action to secure the future of the natural environment.
It said that merely copying EU legislation into UK law will not be enough for up to one third of the UK’s environmental protections.
The report said: “There is a risk where EU legislation is transposed into UK law but is no longer updated, has no body enforcing it and can be eroded through statutory instruments with minimal parliamentary scrutiny.
“A new Environmental Protection Act should be passed before Brexit. To achieve its manifesto commitment to ‘be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it’ the Government must set out how it will provide an equivalent or better level of protection after leaving the EU."
On the subject of trade and the impact on UK farmers, the report highlighted the ‘triple jeopardy’ from changes in the UK’s trading relationships negotiated after Brexit.
“First, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) makes up 50-60 per cent of farm incomes, so leaving the CAP will threaten the viability of some farms,” the report said.
“Second, trade agreements which impose tariff or non-tariff barriers on UK farm exports threaten farm and food business incomes. Third, new trading relationships with the rest of the world could lead to increased competition from larger economies with lower animal welfare, food safety and environmental standards.”
In addition, the report said any new farm subsidies which the Government introduces to replace CAP should ‘provide a better balance between support to agriculture and environmental protection’.
“New subsidies should have clearly defined objectives linked to the delivery of public goods, like the promotion of biodiversity, preventing flooding and storing carbon, rather than simply providing income support to farmers,” it said.
“The determination of which public goods to support should be evidence-based, with the aim of addressing market failure. Any possible future scheme should be more able to allow innovative technologies for protecting the environment.”
Mrs Creagh added: “It was concerning that the Environment Secretary gave my Committee no reassurance that there would be subsidies for farmers after we leave the EU.”
MPs also called on the Government to allow full parliamentary scrutiny of its plans for the future of environmental legislation after Brexit.