The new environmental watchdog Defra Secretary Michael Gove has promised to set up will be more robust if it is ‘designed and owned jointly’ by all four nations of the UK, according to a new Institute for Government (IFG) report.
Last November, Mr Gove took the decision to establish a new English regulator to replace the European Commission, which has taken legal action against the UK several times for failing to meet EU environmental standards.
There had been concerns that a failure to replace this body would lead to a ‘governance gap’.
In its report, the IFG recommended the regulator report to and be co-funded by all four legislatures, not Governments, of the UK to make it more independent and less likely to be abolished.
“Government can change objectives, as they did when they removed the child poverty targets in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016”, the paper read.
“Creating a UK-wide watchdog, established in legislation, scrutinised and passed by all four parliaments, and jointly owned by all four Governments, would make it harder for the UK Government to abolish or weaken it in the future.
“Standards could not easily be undercut, and the institution would speak with greater authority.”
The IFG also called for an ‘urgent review’ of how the four nations of the UK work together in light of Brexit.
At the moment, the UK Government and devolved regions discuss issues relevant to devolution through the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC), but there has been criticism of the effectiveness of the body since the EU referendum.
Only the UK Government has the power to convene the JMC, but it has preferred to insist on bilateral discussions with the devolved regions while Brexit talks are ongoing.
The report recommended the Minister for the Cabinet Office work with the devolved regions to ensure the JMC has a fixed timetable of meetings, including an annual ‘plenary’, which have jointly agreed agendas.
It also said new mechanisms to solve technical disputes outside of politically contentious ministerial forums should be established, and JMC sub-committees on topics such as international trade should be set up to provide a ‘forum for consultation’.