Committee worried the Welsh Government are unprepared for post-Brexit environmental enforcement

(Title Image: National Assembly of Wales, Crown Copyright)

Environment Committee
Environmental governance post-Brexit (pdf)
Published: 2nd October 2019

“Membership of the EU has helped drive up environmental standards and has been a catalyst for environmental improvements. The Welsh Government must ensure that Wales can successfully build on this following the UK’s exit from the EU.

 

“To do this, a new and robust system of environmental governance will be needed, one that can rise to meet the environmental challenges we face now and in the future.”
– Committee Chair, Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East)

1. Work continues on enshrining post-Brexit environmental rules in law

While UK Government plans to deal with post-Brexit environmental regulations will mainly apply to England (as environmental policy is mostly devolved) there are some reserved matters with regard to the Welsh devolution settlement.

In August 2019, the Welsh and UK governments agreed with the UK Government that a common set of environmental rules was needed and work was (at the time) ongoing.

Four key EU environmental principles are either enshrined in domestic law or set to be enshrined in Welsh law in a future Welsh Environment Bill (in particular, the “polluter pays” principle and rectifying environmental damage at its source).

The Committee demanded that within the next three weeks, they’re provided with further details on the Welsh Government’s agreement with the UK on common environmental principles.

2. There could be gaps in environmental governance after Brexit

The Welsh Government said there was the potential for three gaps to appear in terms of environmental governance after Brexit (because it’s currently undertaken by the EU): independent accountability, a method for citizens to raise complaints and enforcement.

There’s no clear decision yet on whether any new independent environmental enforcement body will be UK-wide or Wales-only. WWF, Greener UK and the Farmers Union of Wales all called for a UK-wide body which respects the devolution settlement.

There was a general conclusion that there was no UK or Welsh body capable of taking over the EU’s environmental governance functions, in whole or part – but there were no concerns that a new body couldn’t be established.

There was broad agreement that any new body should be independent of government, directly accountable to the Senedd in some way and funded through the Welsh block grant. Canada’s Commissioner for the Environment & Sustainable Development was said to be a suitable model – though Natural Resources Wales believed the role had to be clear, particularly where responsibilities overlap.

The Welsh Government also believe that any enforcement action should not be restricted just to fines and that any complaints system should be free and easy to use by the public.

3. The Welsh Government doesn’t know how it will address governance gaps in any transition period

While the Welsh Government said that they will continue to apply EU rules while “legislation is developed” on a successor system, they didn’t explain to the Committee how precisely they intend to address any gaps during a transition period.

No proposals for transitional arrangements have been laid out by the Welsh Government – though the UK Government has proposed a “shadow body” to receive complaints etc. until a new body is set up.

The Committee concluded that: “We are concerned that over a year on from our report, proposals for transitional arrangements are no further forward. Reports from the Welsh Government that the recently established stakeholder task group will be discussing transitional arrangements have done nothing to allay our concern. The stark reality is that, in the absence of suitable transitional arrangements, governance gaps will occur after the UK leaves the EU.”

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