I absolutely agree that leaving the EU must not lead to any watering down of existing standards on the environment and I share your concern that the Repeal Bill does not fully provide for the transfer of environmental protections. I have therefore supported several amendments to safeguard environmental standards.
I support the principle of New Clause 25 to give enhanced constitutional protection to EU-derived environmental protections and I voted for this amendment in the House of Commons on 15 November. However, it was rejected by the Government and defeated.
I also supported New Clause 67 which was tabled by the Labour Party and sought to ensure that the EU’s environmental principles continue to be recognised and applied after exit day. This includes the precautionary principle – which is vital to food standards – and the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Unfortunately, this was also defeated.
In addition, I support amendment 101 which would clarify that all existing principles of EU law would be retained within domestic law, and make clear that the key environmental law principles would be retained. This amendment was not pressed to a vote when the Repeal Bill was considered on 21 November, but I voted for the similar Opposition amendment, 336. Again, this was defeated.
The Government has said that it will create a new policy statement setting out environmental principles and that this will draw on the EU’s current principles. It has also committed to establishing a new environmental watchdog. This is welcome but we must wait to see whether the proposed body will have the independence, powers and funding to properly enforce environmental law after Brexit.
I remain concerned that EU-derived environmental protections and standards are at risk, and I believe that additional steps must be taken to secure the future of our environment and the natural world and to guard against Brexit being used to undermine hard-won environmental gains.
I can therefore assure you that I will continue to press for environmental standards to be properly protected after Brexit and strengthened where necessary.
In relation to the protection of our rivers water must be at the heart of good environmental policy and I agree with you that we must act to preserve the health of our rivers for present and future generations to enjoy.
I am aware that a recent report by the WWF showed that around 40% of rivers in England and Wales are polluted by sewage. It is clear that our outdated waste systems can no longer cope with demand, and pollution is having a dire impact on human health, rivers and wildlife.
Water is our most precious resource, and it belongs to all of us. I believe that urgent reform of abstraction is needed now, to mitigate the devastating effects of drought and to restore river health. I also believe that the Government must finally publish its long-awaited 25 Year Environment Plan, which unfortunately remains outstanding.
I can assure you that I will continue to press for action to maintain and enhance environmental standards and to protect and restore our rivers, lakes and coastal areas when the Environment Bill begins its process through Parliament.