I agree that leaving the EU must not lead to any watering down of existing standards on the environment and I have consistently supported amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill designed to safeguard environmental standards.
Of course, environmental policy is devolved in Scotland and I have therefore also supported amendments to implement a clear presumption of devolution so that powers over devolved matters currently exercised by the EU go directly to the Scottish Parliament.
I am pleased that improvements have been made to the Bill to ensure that devolved powers will automatically flow to the devolved administrations. The amendments also stipulate that if the UK Government wishes to reclaim any of these powers to create UK-wide frameworks, it would have to seek consent of the devolved legislatures.
I believe it is vital that consent from the Scottish Parliament and other devolved administrations must be sought unless the UK Government has to legislate in an area which involves an international obligation. I therefore supported Opposition amendments which seek to ensure this and to further strengthen the powers of the devolved administrations by cutting the proposed post-transition period ‘sunset clause’ in the Bill from five to three years. This would reduce the length of time that UK Government legislation can last on devolved matters coming back from the EU after the transition period.
In terms of environmental protections, as you know, Lord Krebs moved an amendment during third reading of the EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Lords which sought to ensure the UK’s withdrawal from the EU does not result in a weakening of standards to protect our environment. This amendment would apply to the whole of the UK and would require the UK Government to consult each of the devolved administrations before publishing proposals for primary legislation on the maintenance of EU environmental principles and standards.
While this amendment was passed by the House of Lords on 16 May, the UK Government did not support the amendment and it has been reported that it will back a watered-down version when the EU Withdrawal Bill is considered further in the House of Commons.
I remain concerned that EU-derived environmental protections and standards are at risk and I believe additional steps must be taken to secure the future of our environment and the natural world and to guard against Brexit being used to undermine hard-won environmental gains.
I can therefore assure you I will support amendments to this Bill and other pieces of Brexit legislation which seek to ensure that environmental standards – in Scotland and across the UK – are properly protected after we have left the EU. I will also hold the UK Government to account in ensuring the devolved governments are not side-lined throughout this process.