An Interim Secretariat made up of “16 full-time civil servants” will fill the environmental governance gap in the event of a no deal Brexit, a situation Environment Secretary Michael Gove has described as “sub-optimal”.
Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has been conducting an inquiry into the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, which was published on 19 December 2019. The bill lays the framework for a new Act of Parliament to transpose existing EU environmental law into UK law, and to define and create the structure of governance that will ensure environmental standards are maintained post-Brexit.
To replace the governance and oversight provided by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, the establishment of an independent Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has been proposed, which would have powers of enforcement and be able to hold the government to account over its stated environmental principles and policies.
The OEP would be established before the end of the agreed Brexit transition period – though this is dependent on a withdrawal agreement being ratified – at the end of 2020, with a budget of “millions” of pounds and a workforce of between 60 and 120 people. However, in the event of a no deal Brexit, such a body would not be established in time, meaning the Interim Secretariat of just 16 civil servants, an outcome Gove described as “sub-optimal” and MPs on the EAC branded a “policy gap”.