Brexit must leave our environment in a better state

Brexit must leave our environment in a better state

I’ve advocated leaving the EU for several decades, so was happy to be part of the referendum campaign for Leave. But after the Lords debate on the Article 50 Bill, during which I spoke, I have huge concerns about the Prime Minister’s approach. In the Commons she resisted attempts to make red lines of even the most basic environmental and social principles, and avoided any requirement for the Government to publish a detailed plan for changes it plans to propose.

The White Paper didn’t include the environment as one of the Government’s twelve guiding principles, nor is the environment one of the four topics of debate they want to enable. I want us to seize this Brexit opportunity to give greater protection to our countryside and natural environment, not to slash and burn in a short-sighted attempt to stimulate our economy.

The Government is even resisting attempts to require that changes to fundamental environmental protections should come to Parliament through primary legislation, rather than secondary legislation that can sneak past without proper scrutiny and votes.

This really matters because, as Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has shown, there are over 1,100 EU environmental laws that will need to be transposed into UK law, and the Government has yet to identify all of them. While the Great Repeal Bill is supposed to carry this all over intact, ministers have indicated this may only be “where practical”, leaving big gaps and plenty of chances to wreck standards with statutory instruments.

Most British people have got used to our relatively high standards for food and goods, and few would want to see hormone-crammed beef, GM food, cosmetics testing on rabbits or more polluting cars being snuck into the UK without full parliamentary approval.

The Government also has to work out how to enforce these rules, replacing all of the European institutions for standards, testing, certification and enforcement. Of course, the EU Commission have been complete wimps about this. Our Government has been breaking the law on air pollution for over a decade and still hasn’t faced any real sanctions. I want to see us set up new enforcement systems that really hold our ministers’ feet to the fire until we get serious about problems like air pollution, climate change and food waste.

In addition, I want to see some detail from the Government, and a signal that it recognises the importance of these issues. I don’t want them to simply ignore any amendment that tries to enshrine this in the process.

This is why I have tabled and supported amendments in the Lords to try to pin the Government down. I resent people saying I am out to ‘wreck’ the Article 50 Bill by doing so: quite the opposite. I am campaigning, as I have for oh-so-many years, for a Brexit that will leave our environment in a better state than today. As the Government claims to share the same purpose, maybe they will give way this time?