UK activists blast green agency proposal
Michael Gove, the pro-Brexit environment secretary, has unveiled plans for a new independent statutory body to replace the European Commission in ensuring compliance with rules on reducing air and water pollution and protecting wildlife, underpinned by green principles across the EU, such as that “the polluter pays”.
An Environmental Principles and Governance Bill is due to be published this autumn to establish a “world-leading body to hold the government to account for environmental outcomes”. However, unlike the commission, which can take legal action against the government for failing to observe environmental laws and impose fines, it will have limited powers. The new watchdog will replace the EU’s mechanisms and will be backed by a law requiring ministers to “have regard to” core environmental principles.
Environmentalists who met Gove to talk through the plan were critical.
Campaigners say any new body must have the power to bring prosecutions, and hold governments to account over environmental commitments, like Prime Minister Theresa May’s 25-year environment plan announced in January.
“The proposals for a green watchdog amount to little more than a green poodle with only the ability to issue weak ‘advisory notices’,” said Martin Harper of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Gove said the government would be the first in a generation to leave the environment in a better state than the previous administration.
“But we will only achieve our aims by also creating a strong and objective voice that champions and enforces environmental standards. That’s why our environmental principles and governance bill will also create an independent and statutory watchdog. This will hold governments to account for delivering their commitments to the natural world,” the vilified minister said.
The vice-chancellor of Oxford University has said the UK will miss out on billions in EU research funding after Brexit.
Louise Richardson said the government’s “pay-as-you-go” proposals, under which London would receive grants only up to the value of what it pays in to EU funding programmes, represented an “enormous loss”.
“The reality is that between 2007 and 2013 the UK contributed £5.4 billion to the EU to support research, development and innovation while over the same period we received £8.8 billion under the EU research framework programme budget,” she told the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce conference.
“So post-Brexit the pay-as-you-go system as has been proposed – a system where the UK gets out only as much as it puts in to research funding – represents an enormous loss to us.”
Richardson said immigration controls could have a significant impact on research and innovation.
“I think we are all in trouble as a result of the referendum,” she said. “We know how much our reputation depends upon our research partnerships and collaborations, in everything from artificial intelligence to zoology. Many of these partnerships, which are supported through EU research programmes, are threatened by Brexit.”
Anti-Brexit protesters in London last year. Picture credit: Eurasia Times