Protecting our environment post-Brexit: make yourself heard

Nathalie Pettorelli

In the midst of huge political change, there is concern that the European Union Withdrawal Bill could pose a threat to environmental protections. ZSL's Dr Nathalie Pettorelli explains how you can take action. 

It is imperative that efforts are made to secure environmental protections to safeguard species like hedgehogs post Brexit

On 13 July the Government published the European Union Withdrawal Bill (also known as the 'Great Repeal Bill') that will end our membership of the EU at the same time as ensuring all the laws we live by today remain in force. The Bill has been presented as a way to preserve the current status quo (including all current EU environmental protection legislation), retaining EU law as part of UK law as far as possible after Brexit day. It aims to leave it up to the UK Parliament to deliberate and legislate on what it wants the UK’s statute-book to look like post-Brexit, in its own time.

However, there is concern that the Bill, as currently drafted, could pose a very substantial threat to the environmental protections we currently enjoy as a result of the UK’s membership to the EU. For example, although the Bill suggests that principles (such as the “polluter pays” principle and the “precautionary principle”) will be able to be used as an aid to interpreting retained EU law, there is a specific provision (Sched 1, para 3) saying that, post-Brexit, people will not be able to sue the Government (or anyone else) on the basis that they have failed to comply with the general principles of EU law. 

Similarly, the effect of the drafted clause 7 will be to allow the Government to perform extensive surgery on retained EU law on the grounds of a “failure to operate effectively” or “any other deficiency” arising from withdrawal. There is yet no definition of what a “failure to operate effectively” or “other deficiency” will look like. This could thus open the opportunity for the Government to water down existing environmental protections enshrined in EU law without having to get primary legislation passed by Parliament.

Worryingly, the Bill also exposes a potential governance gap linked to the loss of the European Commission’s existing role in relation to monitoring and reporting requirements, as well as enforcement action and dealing with complaints from members of public about failures to implement or enforce environmental law. Although the Bill gives the Government the power to pass these functions to new or existing public bodies, there is currently no obligation on the Government to do so. 

Faced with huge environmental challenges and declining biodiversity, it is imperative that all efforts are made to secure adequate and efficient environmental protections post Brexit. The Wildlife Countryside Link & Greener UK campaign group has developed an e-action that sends a message to a participating person’s MP asking them to:

  • Defend high environmental standards throughout the “Great Repeal Bill” process; and
  • Ask the PM on their behalf how she will deliver the UK Government’s ambition to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation 

So make yourself heard! Contact your MP via the e-action and remind them of their crucial role in defending our environmental laws, and ensuring they are not left vulnerable to future change.

Contact your MP


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