It’s already been a busy week for UK politics and it’s only Tuesday. Yesterday saw the Parliament return from its short suspension, followed by a Queen’s Speech detailing new policies covering crime, health and the environment.
However, it’s the new Environment Bill that has campaigners and environmentalists talking. The long-awaited bill is expected to focus on air and water quality, tackling plastic pollution, restoring wildlife and protecting the climate. Many environmentalists have welcomed the proposal, particularly its ambitions to restore nature.
The new bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament later today and is anticipated to completely transform environmental protections, especially under a post-Brexit UK. “Crucially, it also ensures that after Brexit, environmental ambition and accountability are placed more clearly than ever before at the heart of government, both now and in the future” said Environmental Secretary Theresa Villiers.
Yet many others say that ministers are going backwards when it comes to tackling certain issues. Under EU standards, the UK Government has to pay heavy fines if in breach of environmental requirements. However, following Brexit, a new independent watchdog – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – will take up the reins in holding the Government responsible.
The watchdog will differ greatly from the EU regulations, for example it won’t have the same power especially when it comes to fining the Government. Instead, the watchdog will be able to stop projects and hold authorities in contempt of court if in violation of environmental standards.
The Power of Independent Watchdogs
Many campaigners believe that the OEP will not have the necessary influence or funding to properly hold the Government answerable.
Jonathan Bartley, the co-leader of the Green Party, told The Independent: “As we have seen again and again this government is not serious about its environmental commitments, and now it looks as if the body that is supposed to hold the government to account won’t even have the power to fine them.”
While the details and fine print of the bill are still unknown, the supposed power of the OEP seems to be diminished already without the ability to enforce fines on the government. The point of the watchdog is to remain completely independent of government, but many are worried that the OEP will be stripped of its power in enforcing environmental regulations.
The bill is expected to be presented in Parliament today, but its unlikely to make progress soon with the possibility of a general election in the next few weeks.
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