Government rejects protecting nature from EU sunset law

The UK Government has this week rejected amendments that would have offered some assurances of the continuation to nature protection laws that have been derived from European legislation.

On Wednesday the Government voted against amendments tabled for the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill that sought to protect environmental rules from powers contained in the the bill.

The REUL Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 22 September 2022. The Bill (also known as the Brexit Freedoms Bill) sets a deadline for all EU-derived laws to expire in December 2023. Only those pieces of legislation that have been specifically reviewed and retained will remain as part of the UK statute.

To put this in context, there are over 2,000 laws listed on the Government’s own Retained EU law dashboard, and there are likely to be more added that have initially been missed. Of these laws, over 500 are attributed to Defra, which cannot possibly hope to review every piece of legislation by the end of the year. Included within those 500 laws are habitats and species protections, environmental and marine impact assessment, marine and freshwater water quality, air quality, invasive species, and other environmental regulations such as for chemicals, waste management and recycling.

The devolved nations’ governments are also unhappy that the Bill infringes on legislation that should be the competence of the devolved country, such as laws on the environment, but will instead be decided on in Westminster.

Defra has separately maintained that it is committed to maintaining and enhancing environmental standards, with Defra Secretary of State, Thérèse Coffey, telling parliamentarians in November 2022 that she has told her civil servants to “by default” retain EU-derived environmental legislation. It is however unclear how this will happen, and there are no guarantees what will happen on-the-ground if legislation suddenly falls away without anything to replace it.

CIEEM will continue to work with our partners on rebutting the REUL Bill. Wildlife and Countryside Link, of which CIEEM is a member, has said that the Bill is “an economic and environmental wrecking ball“.

CIEEM’s Head of Policy, Jason Reeves. said:

The REUL Bill, if enacted in its current form, it will create chaos not just for the environment but across the economy and society.