The UK Environmental Audit Committee (a cross-party parliamentary select committee which considers how well government policies and programmes contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development) has published its report on “The Future of the Natural Environment after the EU Referendum”.  The report makes a series of recommendations for actions that the Government should take during the Brexit process to avoid weakening levels of environmental protection after Britain leaves the EU.

The key recommendation is that a new Environmental Protection Act must be put forward during the Article 50 negotiation period, to provide an equivalent or better level of environmental protection to that which is currently in place. The Committee sees this as a pre-requisite to ensure the Government meets its manifesto pledge to “be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it”.

Without such an Act, the Committee warns of difficulties of transposing some EU environmental legislation into UK law, and the risk of so called “zombie legislation”, where EU law that has already been transposed into UK domestic legislation ceases to be updated and can easily be eroded by statutory instruments with limited parliamentary scrutiny. The fear is that the Great Repeal Bill may seek to maintain the status quo initially, but without additional safeguards, standards of environmental legislation could more easily be eroded in future.

The environment secretary Andrea Leadsom has previously acknowledged that up to a third of the existing body of EU environmental legislation cannot readily be transposed into UK domestic law because of technical issues, and that work will be needed to make them work once Britain leaves the EU. The Committee urges the Government to identify this legislation before Article 50 is triggered to ensure full public and parliamentary debate and scrutiny of how this should be dealt with.

The other recommendations of the Committee’s report focus on replacement of existing EU environmental funding and future allocation of funding; links between Brexit and the two 25-year plans that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is due to be issuing this year (on the natural environment, and on food, farming and fisheries); the impact of trade agreements on the environment and agriculture; and establishing the objectives and governance model for future land management payments.

This report is the first in a series of inquiries to be carried out by this Committee in relation to Brexit. The next one, on “The Future of Chemicals Regulation after the EU Referendum”, has just been launched, and the Committee is inviting submissions on a range of questions on this issue.  The deadline for submissions is 6 pm on Friday 20 January 2017.