Closing the environmental gaps in the Government’s Brexit Bill

The Government has allowed a series of late night sittings to deal with the Lords’ substantial opposition to its EU Withdrawal Bill. This opposition has been fuelled mainly by the Government’s failure to deal with the genuine concerns about the transfer of EU policies into UK legislation. Bringing across all the European rules and making them UK laws was meant to be the purpose of the Bill, but the amendments in the Lords have highlighted dozens of ways that the Government are trying to dump social and environmental protections.

Amendment 214, coming up at the next sitting, is one of five key amendments I have put my name on. It requires Ministers to make sure that EU Directives are properly implemented, so that we receive whatever benefits, rights, and remedies were intended by the Directive. Examples of Directives we have benefited from include the Working Time Directive and the Habitats Directive.

The big problem with the current approach (in the bill’s Clause 4) is that it will exclude legal rights simply because they haven’t yet been litigated on. It is a very odd approach for the Government to take in deciding that legal rights only exist once a Court has applied that specific right. The very nature of EU Directives means that there are whole frameworks which Governments may have simply taken for granted – but these could be lost simply because no one has sued the Government on them. This strikes me and many others as a perverse way to approach the issue.

 The second big problem is where the Government has failed to properly implement EU Directives. At the moment, people have legal rights to take the Government to court where they have failed to meet their obligations under EU Directives. This will all be lost as a result of Clause 4.

One example of where we have failed to implement an EU Directive is Directive 2016/802. The Directive requires the strengthening of regulations to reduce the sulfur content of liquid fuels, but the UK regulations instead talk about imposing less regulation.

Another example is the Water Framework Directive which requires price incentives to encourage people to use water sustainably – but we haven’t done this.

Rather than making good on our obligations under EU law, the Government is trying to tear up whole swathes of EU law, and our environment and our health will be the biggest casualties. We must plug these gaps or we’ll all be much worse off, and so will our precious environment.