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MPs call for post-Brexit Environmental Enforcement and Audit Office

Words: Huw Morris

MPs are demanding that the government should set up an independent oversight body to ensure that environmental governance, enforcement and policy currently carried out by the European Commission are not lost after Brexit.

The Environmental Audit Committee calls the new body the Environmental Enforcement and Audit Office (EEAO), and says it would be modelled on the National Audit Office.

The government has promised a new Environmental Principles and Governance Bill covering air, waste, water, chemicals that cannot be copied and pasted into UK law through the EU (Withdrawal) Act. The committee calls on the government to go further and enshrine biodiversity targets, habitats, soil quality targets, and access to justice in UK law for the first time.

The MPs lambast a “worrying lack of detail” in the 25-year environment plan as to how the government’s environmental objectives will be achieved. 

They recommend that legally binding targets should be introduced on key environmental indicators, with five yearly action reports along the model of the Climate Change Act 2008.

The government should also bring forward details on targets, implementation, governance and funding before the publication of the draft Environmental Principles and Governance Bill.

The committee recommends that the EEAO should oversee all public authorities and not just central government. It should have the power to take the government and other public bodies to court where standards are breached and to launch its own investigations including complaints brought by the public, which the courts can then adjudicate.

This body must be accountable to and overseen by Parliament to guarantee its independence and prevent its budget being cut in future.

“If we want a world-leading environment we need a world-leading environmental watchdog,” said committee chair Mary Creagh. “But in recent months the government has been referred to the EU’s highest court for failing to tackle illegal levels of air pollution in the UK. We are facing a biodiversity crisis and risk losing iconic species like the hedgehog.

“The 25-year plan is high on ambitions, but low on milestones. The government has more experience of getting rid of environmental watchdogs than of setting them up.”

Image credit | iStock