Lords Write To Gove Over Green Watchdog Concerns

The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee has written to Environment Secretary Michael Gove expressing “concerns” over the proposed Office of Environmental Protection.

In 2017, the Committee published a report – Brexit: environment and climate change – which highlighted the important role of the European Commission and Court of Justice of the European Union in ensuring Member States comply with environmental legislation.

It recommended the establishment of an independent, domestic enforcement mechanism to fill the gap when the UK leaves the EU, with the ability (as EU institutions do) to sanction Government non-compliance through the courts.

This proposal was not supported by Government at the time, but in December 2018 the Government published proposals for an Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) as part of the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill.

The Environmental Principles and Governance Bill was unveiled by Government with an aim of ensuring environmental protections will not be weakened as the UK leaves the EU.

As part of the Bill, government is consulting on what it’s calling a “world-leading” environment body to hold government to account for environmental outcomes in place of the European Court of Justice.

On 6 February this year, the Committee held a roundtable with “environment experts” to discuss the proposals and has now written to Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, with their findings and recommendations.


The Committee raises concerns that the OEP’s members and budget will be determined by the Secretary of State and recommends that Parliament be given a greater role.


The Committee calls for climate change to be included in the OEP’s remit (it is currently explicitly excluded) and asks questions about how the Secretary of State is working with the devolved administrations to ensure environmental protection is upheld in all four nations of the UK.


After hearing concerns from witnesses that the OEP’s powers would not mirror those of EU institutions, the Committee emphasise the need for enforcement powers to be at least as strong after Brexit as beforehand.


With the possibility of a ‘no deal’ Brexit in a few weeks’ time, the OEP may not be in place when the UK leaves the EU. The Committee, therefore, calls for interim measures to be put in place to maintain at least some level of environmental protection.

[UPDATED 1 March 14:00]

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are thankful for the advice and engagement from the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee and will factor these views into our ongoing development of the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) clauses.

“The draft Environment (Principles and Governance) clauses are also undergoing parallel parliamentary pre-legislative scrutiny with the EFRA and EAC Select Committees.

“We are committed to being the first government to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it. The EU Withdrawal Act already ensures that existing EU environmental law will continue to have effect in UK law after we leave so we can deliver a Green Brexit.

“The Government has also consistently made clear that our high environmental protections will not only be maintained but enhanced outside the EU, whether we leave with or without a deal.

“These measures on environmental principles and governance will form part of a wider Environment Bill which will also cover air quality, nature recovery, waste and resource efficiency and water resource management.”

For the full letter, click here.

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