Good-ish news for a Friday: Michael Gove promises consultation on new arrangements to uphold environmental laws

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I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

Good-ish news for a Friday: Michael Gove promises consultation on new arrangements to uphold environmental laws

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At the beginning of this week, I wrote that action was needed to address the environmental governance gap created by the UK decision to leave the European Union.

I argued that If the UK Government wanted to be true to its promise not to weaken levels of environmental protection as it leaves the EU, it needed to ensure that the governance functions that we have as members of the EU are replaced at domestic level.

In his statements to the Environmental Audit Committee this week (which I would encourage you to watch here), Environment Secretary Michael Gove definitely moved us one step forward but possibly one step back.

Capercaillie - a protected species under the EU Birds Directive - displaying at RSPB's Abernethy nature reserve (photo credit: Dave Braddock rspb-images.com)

It was reassuring to hear Mr Gove say that he will consult on a possible new body or bodies to enforce and uphold environmental laws once the UK is no longer a member of the EU.  The creation of such a body, if fully independent of government, furnished with adequate statutory powers and adequately resourced, will make a vital contribution to addressing the environmental governance gap that Brexit will create.  

However, Mr Gove also appeared to dismiss the need for transfer of the overarching environmental principles (such as the polluter pays principle) into UK law.  A failure to bring these fundamental principles into law, but instead to rely on guidance will weaken the interpretation and use of these laws, and potentially undermine standards of protection for our wildlife, air, rivers and seas. 

The stakes remain high: for over 40 years, European law has provided the cornerstone of the UK’s environmental legislation. This legal framework is currently relied on to protect the UK’s environment, with an estimated 80% of environmental policies in the UK currently shaped by EU law. If standards of protection for the UK environment are to be maintained when the UK leaves the EU,  it is therefore vital not only that all existing law is faithfully converted into UK law, but that the overarching and international principles that inform how this law is used to protect the environment are also brought into UK law, and that we create new governance arrangements and institutions to replace those we currently rely on to ensure their full and proper implementation.

Mr Gove is doing us a service though by being open about his views and signalling his preferred direction of travel.  He is clearly listening to the arguments that we and other environmental organisations are making, but it is also clear that we have more to do to win all the arguments about how to make Brexit work for nature.

  • Totally agree with all of what you have said Martin.

    Taking into account how often politicians back pedal on what they said previously, I also agree there is a lot more lobbying work to be done before we can be satisfied that leaving the EU will mean at least the same if not better protection for the environment and our wildlife.

    No doubt Mr Gove will come under pressure from other Government departments and certain members of hie own political party to water down  his approach. Hence the need to make sure our wildlife voice heard loud and clear.