The environment secretary has now signalled there could be divergence on rules and on standards after Brexit. Photograph: WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto/Getty Images The environment secretary has now signalled there could be divergence on rules and on standards after Brexit. Photograph: WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Villiers: ‘There is scope for divergence’ on environmental standards

Environment secretary Theresa Villiers has said there is “scope for divergence” on environmental standards following Brexit, the day after MPs were told that prime minister Boris Johnson is committed to binding environmental non-regression.

Speaking at one-off session held by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) yesterday, committee chair Mary Creagh asserted that non-regression commitments, which have been moved from the withdrawal agreement as presented by former prime minister Theresa May and put into the weaker political declaration, would not be legally binding on the government as it negotiates future trading arrangements. 

Villiers conceded that the divergence could occur, but said that commitments had been made in the Political Declaration to maintain a level playing field and that Article 184 of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill makes a commitment to negotiating in good faith on the basis of the declaration, which she said meant it “has some legal status, though not one of treaty, obviously”.

The environment secretary has previously signalled that there could be divergence from EU rules once the UK leaves the EU, but has until now said that standards would either be maintained or improved. 

She also referred to Johnson’s comments to parliament last week where he “indicated that he would be amenable to introducing a clause on non-regression into the Withdrawal Agreement Bill”. 

Villers said a new environmental clause would likely follow similar lines to the existing non-regression clause on workers’ rights, which Creagh pointed out relates only to primary legislation and only requires ministers to make a declaration on whether workers’ rights are to be engaged or not. 

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is no longer being considered in parliament while the parties prepare for a general election on 12 December. The future of the Environment Bill is also uncertain as it would need to be re-introduced to a new parliament following the election of a new government. 

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  • European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018

    European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018

    In force/
    England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, UK, Wales
    07 Jul 2018


    03/07/2018 Commencement Regulations ( SI 2018/808) published.
    04/03/2019 Commencement (No. 2) Regulations (SI 2019/399) published., 28/03/2019 Amending Regulations (SI 2019/718) published.
    11/04/2019 Amending Regulations (SI 2019/859) published.

    Compliance Dates

    26/06/2018 Received Royal Assent, 26/06/2018 Section
    8-11, 13, 14, 16-18, 20-22, 23(1)-(4), 23(6), 24 and 25 and Schedule 2, 4, 6 and 7 enter into force, 26/06/2018 Paragraphs 4, 5, 21(2)(b), 48(b), 51(2)(c), 51(2)(d), 51(4) of Schedule 3, and Sections 12(8) and 12(12) insofar as relate to those paragraphs, paragraph 41(10), 43 and 44 of Schedule 8 and section 23(7) so far as relating to those paragraphs, enter , 26/08/2018 Sections 12(2), 12(4), 12(6), 12(7) and 12(8) and paragraphs 1(b), 2, 3(b), 24(2), 24(3), 25, 43, 57 and 58 of Schedule 3 enter into force for regulation-making purposes under the devolution Acts (Scotland Act 1998, Government of Wales Act 2006, and , 26/12/2018 Draft Bill setting out a set of environmental principles due to be published
    04/07/2018 Sections 5(6), 6(7), 12(9)–(11) and (13), 15(2), 19, 23(7) and (8), paragraph 1(2)(b) and (3) of Schedule 1, paragraphs 2 and 4 of Schedule 5, paragraphs 18, 20, 22(d) and (e), 31–34, 36 and 40 of Schedule 8, and Schedule 9 enter into force (see SI 2
    12/04/2019 Section 23(8) and Schedule 9 insofar as they relate to the repeal of the European Union Act 2011 (to the extent not already commenced) enter into force (see SI 2018/808and SI 2019/718), unless the withdrawal agreement is adopted in the UK Parliament
    01/03/2019 Paragraph 41(3) to (9) of Schedule 8 enters into force (see SI 2019/399)



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