Brexit and the environment: the UK legislatures’ preparations for leaving the EU- Part 1

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As we enter 2017, with the anticipation of the start of Brexit negotiations, this blog post gives a flavour of the various UK legislatures’ inquiries which explore environmental implications of Brexit. Here, we signpost to several committee inquiries with a focus on environmental issues. Due to the breadth of work being carried out across the UK, this is by no means an exhaustive list.

Today we will look at the National Assembly for Wales and the UK Parliament and tomorrow we will explore the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.

National Assembly for Wales

External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee

This Committee, chaired by David Rees AM, is carrying out its first inquiry; the implications for Wales of Britain exiting the European Union. It posed two key questions to stakeholders in a consultation which closed in November:

  • What should be the top priority for Wales in advance of the UK Government triggering of Article 50 (which starts the formal process of exiting the EU)?
  • Can you provide examples of where the UK’s proposed approach to transferring the acquis communautaire (the body of European law), through the proposed Great Repeal Bill, into domestic law might have particular implications for Wales?

The Committee has held several evidence sessions, hearing from, amongst others, the First Minister, the Slovakian Ambassador, Ľubomír Rehák on, the Slovakian Presidency of the Council of the EU; the Counsel General, Mick Antoniw AM, on his response to the Article 50 High Court ruling; and the EC-UK Forum. The Committee is due to report this month.

The Assembly’s Research Service is publishing regular Brexit updates as the process of withdrawal unfolds.

Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee

The Committee is carrying out an inquiry into the Future of Agricultural and Rural Development Policies in Wales post-Brexit. Three questions frame the inquiry:

  • What are the fundamental outcomes that we want to see from agricultural, land management and rural development policies?
  • What lessons can we learn from current and previous policies? What about polices elsewhere?
  • Should Wales develop its own agricultural, land management and rural development polices or should it be part of a broader UK-wide policy and financial framework?

The Committee has held discussions with farmers, foresters, environmentalists and academics. It visited farms and food producers in Ceredigion and Snowdonia and held a workshop with stakeholders. The Chair of the Committee, Mark Reckless AM, made a statement in November (PDF 132KB) outlining the commitments that the Committee was seeking from the UK and Welsh Government:

The first is in relation to future funding. We believe that Wales must continue to receive the level of funding for agriculture, environment and rural development that it currently receives from the European Union.…

The second commitment is in relation to policy freedom for Wales. Decisions on future agriculture, environment and rural development policies should be taken in Wales. After all, responsibility is devolved….

We ask that the Welsh Government agrees to protect funding, once transferred to Wales, for the support of agriculture, environment and rural development policy.

The Committee intends to publish a report in March 2017 on its findings.

UK Parliament

Several committees of the UK Parliament are exploring the implications of Brexit on environmental policy and legislation in the UK.

House of Commons

Environmental Audit Committee

The Committee has undertaken an inquiry into the Future of the Natural Environment after the EU Referendum. Issues explored include the future of funding for biodiversity and agri-environment schemes, implications on the devolved administrations, and the role that managed rewilding can play in conservation and restoration.

As part of the inquiry, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Andrea Leadsom MP, was questioned on the impact of Brexit on the environment. She estimated that two thirds of European environmental legislation, which will be transferred to the UK under the Great Repeal Bill, will be almost directly transposed into UK law with small technical changes. She said that the other third will either be repealed or amended.

The Committee’s final report includes seven recommendations to the UK Government. A key recommendation is for a new Environmental Protection Act to be passed during the Article 50 negotiations to ensure there is no weakening of environmental legislation on withdrawal from the EU.

The Committee’s seventh recommendation refers to coordination between the different UK countries: ‘funding must be allocated fairly and transparently, with shared strategic objectives complemented by minimum environmental standards, so that the UK can continue to meet its international obligations’.

Exiting the European Union Committee

The Committee, chaired by Hilary Benn MP, launched its first inquiry in November: the UK’s negotiating objectives for withdrawal from the EU. The inquiry is looking at the UK’s negotiating objectives for withdrawal from the EU and exploring areas that need to be negotiated, where the UK Government aims to be by the end of the Article 50 process, and the capacity of the new Department for Exiting the EU to deliver this. On 14 December the Committee questioned the Secretary of State for the Department on Exiting the European Union, David Davis MP, on the UK’s negotiating objectives. The Committee plans to visit Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions to gather evidence.

Other House of Commons committees looking at the implications of Brexit on the environment include:

House of Lords

EU Energy and Environment sub-Committee (of the Select Committee on the European Union)

The sub-Committee undertook an inquiry; Brexit: environment and climate change, in the autumn, with the aim of highlighting priorities in these policy areas in advance of Brexit negotiations. The sub-Committee took evidence from academics, NGOs, business representatives and the UK Government, and plans to report in early 2017.

The sub-Committee also held a short inquiry in September: Brexit implications for fisheries policy, taking evidence from the Minister for Fisheries, George Eustice MP and representatives from Norway and Iceland. The sub-Committee explored the UK’s approach to a fisheries policy post-Brexit and how other coastal states approach fisheries management from outside of the EU.

The sub-Committee also held an evidence session on the potential implications of Brexit on environment policy (PDF 216KB) in July.

To read about inquiries taking place in Northern Ireland and Scotland please read tomorrow’s (24 January 2017) blog post.

Article by Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service.