UK government facing legal action over post-Brexit environmental law
Lawyers have launched a High Court challenge to the UK government's plans for environmental law after Brexit amid fears that wildlife protections could be watered down.
ClientEarth said the government was planning an “unlawful misuse of Brexit powers” by allowing ministers to alter and reduce standards for protected sites through the EU Withdrawal Act.
If allowed to go ahead, the lawyers warned that sea otters, dolphins, seabirds and many other vulnerable animals, plants and sites could be at risk across the UK.
There are also fears that protected areas could be abolished entirely in the UK after the country leaves the EU, contradicting the government’s promise to deliver a ‘green Brexit’.
ClientEarth law and policy advisor, Dr Tom West, said: “The UK government has repeatedly promised that the environment would be safeguarded after Brexit.
"So it is extremely concerning that the government has quietly and unlawfully introduced sweeping new powers behind the scenes that weaken environmental protection."
The legal challenge is aimed at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and concerns a statutory instrument that will change existing regulation of habitat and species conservation.
These include potential changes to the obligation to manage recognised conservation sites, and potential limits to the types of areas set aside to protect marine animals that range over wide areas.
Defra has created 122 statutory instruments under the EU Withdrawal Act, which will replace EU law after Brexit, and more than 500 have been submitted by other government departments.
ClientEarth experts have teamed up with the Marine Conservation Society and lawyers at Leigh Day Solicitors to hold the government to account.
Marine Conservation Society CEO, Sandy Luk, said: “Whatever you think of Brexit, the government must keep its promise to the public that its seas, countryside and wildlife will not be worse off if EU protections are no longer in place.
“The management of marine protected areas is not strong enough under current legislation and allowing these changes will mean weaker protections for vulnerable species and habitats. We could even see the possibility of protected areas being abolished after Brexit.
“We cannot allow hard-won ocean protections, which will safeguard future generations and marine wildlife such as treasured dolphins and seabirds, to be lost or watered down.”
Image credit: Shutterstock
Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM