Gove: My plan for a green Brexit rev­o­lu­tion

En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary pledges new watch­dog that will have pow­ers be­yond Euro­pean stan­dards

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front Page - By Ed­ward Mal­nick WHITE­HALL ED­I­TOR

AN IN­DE­PEN­DENT watch­dog to “give the en­vi­ron­ment a voice” and “hold the pow­er­ful to ac­count” will form the cor­ner­stone of a “green Brexit”, the En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary dis­closes to­day.

Michael Gove re­veals plans to set up a “world-lead­ing” statu­tory body to main­tain en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards, to­gether with a na­tional pol­icy state­ment that will per­ma­nently “em­bed” pro­tec­tions for land, wa­ter, air and wildlife into pol­icy-mak­ing as Bri­tain leaves the Euro­pean Union.

The an­nounce­ment, set out in an ar­ti­cle for The Sun­day Tele­graph, is in­tended as a ma­jor con­ces­sion to en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and con­cerned MPs in a bid to head off a se­ries of amend­ments to the Gov­ern­ment’s EU With­drawal Bill that will be de­bated this week.

It is un­der­stood that Zac Gold­smith, the Tory back­bencher, has been lead­ing a group of around 20 Con­ser­va­tives putting pres­sure on min­is­ters to set out ad­di­tional en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions that will be put in place af­ter Brexit. Last night he said that Mr Gove’s pro­pos­als ap­peared “ex­actly right”.

The an­nounce­ment came af­ter proEurope Tories sep­a­rately vowed to vote against the Prime Min­is­ter’s plan to en­shrine in law the date Bri­tain leaves the EU, and Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit sec­re­tary, ac­cused Theresa May of ig­nor­ing “se­ri­ous con­cerns” over the Bill, in­clud­ing on the need for “clear and ro­bust pro­tec­tion and en­force­ment mech­a­nisms” on en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards.

It fol­lows what some Euroscep­tic Tories be­lieve is a co­or­di­nated cam­paign to speak out against Brexit last week, as well as the de­par­ture of Priti Pa­tel, a lead­ing Brex­i­teer, from the Cab­i­net, and at­tacks on Boris John­son over his com­ments about a Bri­tish-Ira­nian woman de­tained in Tehran.

It will be seen partly as an at­tempt by Mr Gove, an­other key Brex­i­teer, to re­state the pos­i­tive case for Bri­tain’s de­par­ture from the EU.

Last night the Mail On Sun­day re­ported that Mr Gove and Mr John­son wrote to the Prime Min­is­ter last month warn­ing that “in some parts of Gov­ern­ment the cur­rent prepa­ra­tions are not pro­ceed­ing with any­thing like suf­fi­cient en­ergy”.

In his ar­ti­cle, Mr Gove says that the Euro­pean laws that will be en­shrined are “not enough” with­out the over­sight of an “en­vi­ron­men­tal watch­dog” – a role cur­rently played by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. While the Com­mis­sion has been “far from per­fect”, he says, Bri­tain has se­cured rules and pro­to­cols

‘We will con­sult on us­ing the new free­doms we have to es­tab­lish a new, world-lead­ing body’

that “pro­tect im­por­tant habi­tats and en­dan­gered species”. He adds that out­side the EU Bri­tain can be­come the “world-lead­ing cu­ra­tor” of the planet.

Mr Gove pledges to launch a con­sul­ta­tion on the plans “by early next year”. He writes: “We will con­sult on us­ing the new free­doms we have to es­tab­lish a new, world-lead­ing body to give the en­vi­ron­ment a voice and hold the pow­er­ful to ac­count.”

Greener UK, a coali­tion of 13 ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, had pre­vi­ously warned of “ma­jor de­fi­cien­cies” in the With­drawal Bill be­cause of the omis­sion of “the en­vi­ron­men­tal prin­ci­ples which un­der­pin many of our strong­est pro­tec­tions” and a “gov­er­nance gap” that would be cre­ated with­out the Com­mis­sion act­ing as a watch­dog.

But last night Shaun Spiers, the coali­tion’s chair­man, de­scribed the pro­pos­als as “very en­cour­ag­ing”.

I GREW up in Aberdeen in the Eight­ies all too vividly aware of how the Com­mon Fish­eries Pol­icy de­pleted fish stocks, dam­aged sus­tain­abil­ity and, in the process, un­der­mined the long-term health of our coastal com­mu­ni­ties.

And as a worker in a farm­ers’ co­op­er­a­tive, I also saw how an­other arm of EU en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tion, the Com­mon Agri­cul­tural Pol­icy, dam­aged our coun­try­side. It paid farm­ers ac­cord­ing to the amount of land they farmed, not the way they man­aged it, and has harmed bio­di­ver­sity.

Out­side the EU – once we have taken back con­trol of our agri­cul­tural, fish­eries and en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies – we can do so much bet­ter.

But it is also im­por­tant to ac­knowl­edge that there have been changes which have oc­curred dur­ing our time in the EU which have helped im­prove our en­vi­ron­ment. In­deed Bri­tish politi­cians, from Mar­garet Thatcher to Stan­ley John­son, John Gum­mer to Owen Pater­son, have played a part in shap­ing pol­icy at the Euro­pean level to im­prove en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. Rules and pro­to­cols that pro­tect im­por­tant habi­tats and en­dan­gered species have been drafted by Bri­tish au­thors work­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally. And I want to pre­serve the gains we have made.

In­deed this Gov­ern­ment has pledged that we must be the first gen­er­a­tion to leave the en­vi­ron­ment in a bet­ter state than we found it. I have ar­gued there­fore that we must not only main­tain but en­hance en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards as we leave the EU. And that means mak­ing sure we se­cure the en­vi­ron­men­tal gains we have made while in the EU even as we use our new in­de­pen­dence to aim even higher.

Our first task is to en­sure that we have a co­her­ent, func­tion­ing body of law in place on the day we leave. That is why we are trans­fer­ring all ex­ist­ing Euro­pean law, in­clud­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions, into UK law through the EU (With­drawal) Bill. Rules and reg­u­la­tions in place the day be­fore Brexit will still be in place the day af­ter.

How­ever, this alone is not enough. Some of the mech­a­nisms which have de­vel­oped dur­ing our time in the EU which help­fully scru­ti­nise the achieve­ment of en­vi­ron­men­tal tar­gets and stan­dards by Gov­ern­ment will no longer ex­ist in the same way, and prin­ci­ples which guide pol­icy will have less scope and cov­er­age that they do now. With­out fur­ther ac­tion, there will be a gov­er­nance gap. The en­vi­ron­ment won’t be pro­tected as it should be from the un­scrupu­lous, un­prin­ci­pled or care­less.

Of course, in the UK we ben­e­fit from a vi­brant democ­racy and ro­bust le­gal sys­tem, which al­low in­di­vid­u­als and par­lia­ments to hold the pow­er­ful to ac­count when they do the wrong thing – whether it’s turn­ing a blind eye to pol­lu­tion or dam­ag­ing our beau­ti­ful coun­try­side. But when it comes to pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, this is not suf­fi­cient on its own.

That is why the EU asked the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion to play a role as en­vi­ron­men­tal watch­dog. Out­side the EU, we have an op­por­tu­nity to learn from both the com­mis­sion’s suc­cesses and fail­ures. We can de­velop new in­sti­tu­tions which do a bet­ter job and hold us to higher stan­dards.

So we will con­sult on us­ing the new free­doms we have to es­tab­lish a new, world-lead­ing body to give the en­vi­ron­ment a voice and hold the pow­er­ful to ac­count, in­de­pen­dent of gov­ern­ment and able to speak its mind freely. It will be placed on a statu­tory foot­ing, en­sur­ing it has clear au­thor­ity. Its am­bi­tion will be to cham­pion and up­hold en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards, al­ways rooted in rig­or­ous sci­en­tific ev­i­dence.

We also need to en­sure that en­vi­ron­men­tal en­force­ment and pol­i­cy­mak­ing is un­der­pinned by a clear set of prin­ci­ples. So as we leave the EU, we will cre­ate a new pol­icy state­ment set­ting out the en­vi­ron­men­tal prin­ci­ples which will guide us. This state­ment will draw on the EU’s cur­rent prin­ci­ples and it will un­der­pin fu­ture pol­i­cy­mak­ing.

By early next year, we will launch a for­mal con­sul­ta­tion on both the new en­vi­ron­men­tal body and the new pol­icy state­ment. There are sig­nif­i­cant ques­tions to an­swer – such as ex­actly what func­tions and pow­ers the new body has to en­force en­vi­ron­men­tal laws, ex­actly how a new pol­icy state­ment is em­bed­ded into pub­lic pol­i­cy­mak­ing, and whether Scot­land, Wales and North­ern Ire­land wish to take a dif­fer­ent or sim­i­lar ap­proach.

Noth­ing is more vi­tal than the fu­ture of our en­vi­ron­ment and the nat­u­ral world. We are their cus­to­di­ans and must safe­guard their fu­ture if our am­bi­tion for a Green Brexit is to be­come a re­al­ity.

We have the chance to set the gold stan­dard for en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ence and be­come a home to cen­tres of en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­cel­lence. A new in­de­pen­dent, statu­tory body and a strong state­ment of prin­ci­ples will en­sure that out­side the EU, we be­come the world-lead­ing cu­ra­tor of the most pre­cious as­set of all: our planet.

‘Noth­ing is more vi­tal than the fu­ture of our nat­u­ral world’

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