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UK may not keep EU environment laws post-Brexit, MPs told

The UK government cannot rule out diverging from EU environmental laws transposed into UK law post-Brexit, new Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers told MPs.

Villiers was giving evidence to Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee on the topic of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) preparations for Brexit, yesterday (9 September) after taking over from Michael Gove as Secretary of State in July following Boris Johnson’s appointment as Prime Minister.

During the session, Labour MP Kerry McCarthy questioned Villiers on the maintaining of environmental standards following Brexit, referencing a comment from Johnson to President of the European Council Donald Tusk in a letter on 19 August saying ‘our regulations on environmental and product standards will potentially diverge from the EU’s’.

The government under the premiership of Theresa May previously stated in its Repeal Bill White Paper that it would ‘ensure the whole body of existing EU Environmental law continues to have effect in domestic law’.

Commenting on Johnson’s comment to Tusk and promising that high standards would not be watered down in pursuit of trade deals – it is feared that environmental protections would on the table in negotiations over a trade deal with the US – Villers said: “What we mean by that is we are committed to maintaining the same high standards and outcomes but the means by which we deliver those standards and outcomes may diverge from the EU over time. There are different ways to get the same result. We’re determined to retain the highest standards, but we may well take a different view in the future over how best to deliver those, because there may be mechanisms better suited to deliver those domestically.”

Continuing, Villiers stated that the way the EU goes about enforcing standards can be “sub-optimal” and it is “misguided” to think the EU will always have the best answers, saying that Brexit will allow the UK to tailor regulatory systems best suited to its domestic context.