After several rounds of “ping-pong” in Parliament (in which peers in the House of Lords repeatedly tried to include amendments that would safeguard environmental standards and ensure proper scrutiny of future changes to EU-derived laws), the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill has become law as the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023, having received royal assent on 29 June 2023.
After significant effort from peers, the public, NGOs and others – including CIEEM – to encourage the government to embed an environmental safeguard and proper parliamentary scrutiny in the bill, the House of Commons overruled these and it was unfortunately passed into law without these in place.
Despite this disappointment, the Act lost the all-encompassing sunset clause and has pushed ministers to agree that environmental principles must be followed and that they will consult on major policy changes. However, ministers will retain the power to repeal, revoke, and replace EU-derived laws – without proper scrutiny – until the end of 2026. The environment sector must now hold the government to account on this, along with monitoring the retained EU law review process across government.
Natalie Prosser, Chief Executive Officer of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), has noted concerns about some of the regulations that will be revoked at the end of the year – including parts of the National Emission Ceiling regulations, which impact air quality – and said that the watchdog will consider this in its next monitoring report.
Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS), the environmental watchdog set up for Scotland, has noted that the Act creates the potential for the UK Government to override the Scottish Government on matters that should be devolved. The Scottish Government has also repeatedly committed to maintaining alignment with EU policy and legislation – despite ongoing divergence between the EU and England in particular.
In Wales, an interim environmental protection assessor is in place but as yet the country does not have its own environmental watchdog.