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2nd Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:58 pm on 11th September 2017.

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Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Co-Leader of the Green Party 5:58 pm, 11th September 2017

In view of the limited time, I will focus on just three aspects of this deeply dangerous and undemocratic Bill. First, I wish to add my voice to the many on both sides of the House expressing enormous concern about how the Bill allows the Government an unprecedented power grab. I congratulate Chris Bryant on his masterclass about how this undermines our sovereignty and represents a wholesale shift of power from elected representatives in Parliament to Ministers and civil servants acting without the encumbrance of accountability or democratic scrutiny.

Regardless of one’s views about Brexit, the Bill is a constitutional outrage. The rank hypocrisy that these proposals to undermine parliamentary sovereignty are being led by precisely those Members who sold the leave argument last year on the supposedly noble ideal of restoring exactly that sovereignty is breathtaking, even by the standards of Government Members. That is why measures to circumscribe those powers are so vital, including measures based on proposals, such as those of the Hansard Society, to establish a sift and scrutiny system for delegated legislation in general. The current processes are already manifestly failing.

Secondly, I want to highlight concerns about the Bill’s impact on environmental protection, and, in particular, about the governance gap—the Bill’s failure to provide for the proper enforcement of environmental laws and standards post-Brexit. So far, there has been no evidence that Ministers recognise the scale of the challenge. Research conducted by the House of Commons has identified more than 1,100 pieces of EU environmental legislation that are the responsibility of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, yet the issue did not appear in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech, has not appeared in the Secretary of State’s statements so far, and certainly does not appear in the Bill.

Cutting and pasting laws from the EU’s statute book into the UK’s is simply not enough, because laws are only as effective as the mechanisms that implement and enforce them in practice. In the absence of mechanisms to replace the monitoring and enforcement roles of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, we will effectively be left with zombie legislation—it may be on the statute book, but it will not be enforceable. There needs to be positive action to create a new Government system including proper implementation, compliance and enforcement. When the Government argue that judicial review can adequately provide the sole mechanism for civil society to challenge the application of environmental law, it shows how little they understand the limitations of JR. It is far too limited in scope and remit, and in terms of access, remedies and sanctions.