BREXIT and the environment – what’s in prospect?

Chemicals, greenhouse gases (GHGs) and pesticides are the most complex areas of legislation for Defra to prepare for the process of leaving the EU, Defra minister Thérèse Coffey has told peers.

Giving evidence to the House of Lords’ EU Energy and Environment Sub-committee on the impacts of Brexit on environment and climate policy, Coffey said Defra had yet to finish mapping all legislation that would be affected because the task was so big. Chemicals, GHGs and pesticides were ‘consuming a lot of grey matter’, she reported.

‘Very detailed work is being done to make sure that nothing falls between the gaps in preparation for the Great Repeal Bill. It wouldn’t be good for our legal system to suddenly develop a hole. That’s not our intention,’ she said.

There is a particular focus on developing policy for how Defra will deal with issues that are governed centrally by an EU institution, such as chemicals, the environment minister added.

In earlier evidence to the inquiry it was submitted that it was likely that the UK would need its own agency to govern the regulations. The Chemical trade association had warned that the UK would lose influence in EU negotiations on regulations such as REACH, the EU regulation on chemicals. The third registration phase for REACH, will be in 2018, before the UK leaves the EU.

Defra continues to fully resource its engagement with the EU on the environment and climate, Coffey confirmed, adding that officials were still able to attend relevant discussions. ‘We’re hoping to negotiate a good trade deal and quite a lot of regulatory equivalence will almost certainly be required. It’s in the interest of the UK industries that we’re very active in negotiations,’ she said.

Coffey also told the peers that the UK could have multiple environment plans for different regions under the umbrella of the government’s 25-year plan. She said the plan would recognise that different parts of the country had different environmental challenges.

The committee also took evidence on the impacts of Brexit on waste, water and air quality. Alan Andrews, clean air project manager at ClientEarth, said he was pessimistic about the future of EU air quality laws once the UK leaves the bloc. The government has been trying to weaken the ambient air quality directive for years, he said.

Although politically it would be difficult to repeal it, subtle amendments could have the same impact by removing its legal effect. When questioned on the issue, Coffey insisted that the UK would honour its air quality commitments. However, she added that the government could achieve much on its own and local authorities would have to play their part in improving air quality: ‘It’s a shared challenge going forward.’

Convinced by the assurances?

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