[6th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 1:03 pm on 10th January 2019.

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Photo of Sue Hayman Sue Hayman Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:03 pm, 10th January 2019

Absolutely. My hon. Friend puts the argument in a nutshell. The political declaration contains only one paragraph referring to protecting rights and standards, which just shows how low down the list of priorities they are for the Government.

What do the Government have planned to replace current EU funding for nature conservation, low-carbon infrastructure, and environmental research and innovation? We also await the return of the Fisheries Bill on Report, so how do the Government intend to safeguard and manage our marine environment, protecting our healthy seas and sustainable fish stocks? British wildlife is also in freefall, so we need the Government to set ambitious and measurable goals to provide certainty for the future of our natural world. We need an action plan and an ambitious timescale in which to deliver the environmental protections that we so desperately need. We need legally binding targets to guarantee that Britain’s high environmental standards cannot be threatened.

It is also essential to keep in step with the EU on environmental standards post Brexit and we need to use the status quo as the starting point. We must not pick and choose which standards to apply—we need all of them. We cannot have divergence on standards or weaker arrangements than those that we currently uphold. We must ensure that the rights enshrined in law are not just principles. The work of the European Union and its institutions has enhanced Britain’s environment for decades and experts are saying that the Government’s proposals are, unfortunately, riddled with loopholes and undermined by vague aspirations that simply do not go far enough in tackling the challenges we face. Environmental organisations do not believe that the withdrawal agreement or the draft environment Bill, as they currently stand, will even scratch the surface when it comes to leaving the environment in a better state. The end result has been watered down and fails to match the powers held by the EU and the European Court of Justice. How does the Secretary of State intend to rectify that?

We also need future environmental policies that go together with a comprehensive future food policy, protecting and enhancing our environment while improving farm productivity and ensuring that we have a stable supply of high-quality British food. Brexit risks setting the UK back, despite all the progress made on environmental protections through our membership of the EU, and the environment Bill presents an opportunity to mitigate those risks. However, that will happen only if the Government go back to the drawing board to ensure that the Bill is stronger and more ambitious and that it fulfils the aspirations previously set out by the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister.

The state of Britain’s environment is at a historic crossroads and Brexit cannot be used as an excuse to veer off towards a future of lowered standards that would put our environment at risk. We need to build on the progress we have made so far, which means the Government must set out a robust action plan detailing exactly how they will leave the environment in a better state than they found it. What has been laid before us so far does not do that, and it is therefore not acceptable to the Opposition. It is time for the Secretary of State to fulfil his warm words before Britain’s environment pays the price for his Government’s failure.