The bill is intended to promote biodiversity while allowing local councils to order cuts in industrial emissions. Photograph: Loop Images / Getty Images The bill is intended to promote biodiversity while allowing local councils to order cuts in industrial emissions. Photograph: Loop Images / Getty Images

Legal experts lambast Environment Bill

The Environment Bill does not “enshrine the highest standards in law” as the prime minister claimed, according to a letter signed by 23 experts in environmental law.

In a letter in the Telegraph newspaper, the 17 legal professors and 6 leading environmental lawyers, among them University College London professor Eloise Scotford and Stephen Tromans QC, dismissed a series of official statements about the legislation. It follows the bill’s second reading on Monday evening, when the government confirmed that it would bring back the legislation, should it be re-elected.

Professors Charlotte Burns and Andy Jordan, the co-chairs of the Brexit & Environment Network, alongside University of Sussex professor of environmental law Donald McGillivray, also signed the letter.

It states that, rather than maintaining and improving environmental protection post-Brexit, “it allows for weaker environmental standards to be introduced in future. Its architecture means that binding EU standards across key areas of environmental quality could be repealed – including air and water quality standards that are currently not being met and which require urgent government attention.”

Moreover, “The bill makes no commitment to non-regression” in environmental standards, and provides the government with “significant control… over what standards are set, who it consults about them, and whether it will be able to comply with them,” it asserts.

Its targets, to be introduced via regulations, could also be less stretching than existing EU standards, says the letter – “and there is no guarantee that they will be met” within the 15-year deadline.

The letter further attacked how the bill would enshrine the environmental principles of EU law. It merely “sets out a constrained procedural mechanism for introducing a policy statement on environmental principles that will influence other government policymaking in limited circumstances. This is a diminution of the current position under EU law,” the experts said.

“British citizens have been promised environmental law and governance that will not allow standards to slip following our departure from the EU. As it stands, this bill does not deliver on that promise,” the letter concluded.

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