Nature organisations have hit out at legislation that they say could lead to the loss of important environmental protections and cost the UK tens of billions of pounds.
The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which returns to the Commons on Wednesday, is designed to make it easier for the UK Government, via Parliament, to amend, repeal and replace EU law retained after Brexit.
It also allows nearly all remaining retained EU law to be either repealed or absorbed into UK domestic law by December 31, 2023.
But it has proved controversial, with green groups particularly concerned that it could put hundreds of laws that protect nature and wildlife at risk.
They also warn it is deregulatory, as it says changes to existing rules cannot increase the regulatory “burden”, meaning environmental protections may not be strengthened, but could be weakened.
Wildlife and Countryside Link – a coalition of nature and environmental organisations – released figures which estimate that dropping or weakening EU laws in just four sectors could cost £82 billion over 30 years.
Analysis warns the UK could rack up tens of billions of costs from less improvement in air quality, loss of health benefits and recycling markets from weaker chemicals regulations, losing water quality standards and weaker protection of designated areas.
Dr Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “Prevention of air and water pollution, protection of precious wildlife and habitats, precautions against hazardous chemical use – they are all put at risk by the Retained EU Law Bill.
“If long-standing protection for nature is removed or weakened, the economic consequences could run into the billions.
“Add to this the costs of years of uncertainty while half the environmental statute book is up in the air and thousands of hours of civil service time spent reviewing laws simply because of where they came from.
“All together, the costs of this economic and environmental wrecking ball bill could be astronomical at a time when the UK – and our environment – can least afford it.”
Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “This appalling Bill means a huge number of laws will cease to exist on December 31, this year unless a minister decides to keep or amend them individually.
“This is fundamentally anti-democratic because it should not be ministers that make this decision, it should be Parliament that decides – and only Parliament.”
And he said: “As things stand, over 1,000 pieces of environmental legislation and regulations will cease to exist at the end of this year, at extraordinary cost to the environment and our economy, and cause untold chaos for business, landowners and farmers in the process.”
The Wildlife Trusts also raised concerns that the move allowing ministers in Westminster to decide on EU environmental laws was a threat to devolution, as environment is devolved to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments.
Environmental campaigners are calling for the Bill to be immediately withdrawn.
A Government spokesperson said: “The UK is a world leader in environmental protection. Reviewing our retained EU law will not come at the expense of the UK’s already high standards and wildlife protections will not be downgraded.
“We have set new legally binding targets under the Environment Act, including to halt and reverse nature’s decline. These stretching targets and the Office for Environmental Protection, our new watchdog, means any reform to retained law must deliver positive environmental outcomes.”
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