Dr Coffey, who is standing for re-election as the MP for the Suffolk Coastal constituency, made the comments at an environmental hustings event, hosted by the Greener UK coalition in London this week.
However, Labour candidate Barry Gardiner accused the Conservatives of viewing the UK’s impending exit from the European Union as a ‘vehicle for further deregulation’ and a potential opportunity to weaken laws around the environment.
Chaired by TV presenter and Woodland Trust president Clive Anderson, the hustings event was held on 30 May. It saw the Conservative and Labour candidates, alongside the Liberal Democrat peer Kate Parminter and the Green Party’s Caroline Russell, questioned on environmental issues including farming subsidies, the green belt and energy policy.
The future of environmental law post-Brexit was among the major topics discussed by the panel with each of the politicians asked whether they saw the UK’s withdrawal from the EU as an opportunity to set ‘more ambitious’ policies in specific areas relating to the environment.
Baroness Parminter, Mr Gardiner and Ms Russell all accused the Conservatives of failing to offer ‘certainty’ over which environmental protections would remain after the government’s proposed Great Repeal Bill has brought existing EU environmental laws into the UK statute book (see letsrecycle.com story).
Mr Gardiner said: “I think what most people will see is that Brexit does present a threat to environmental protections in this country.
“For so long the EU has provided an umbrella of oversight and enforcement for those environmental laws that we have to make sure that they were implemented and that there would be infraction proceedings if they were not.”
However, responding to the comments, Dr Coffey said that a Conservative government would ‘offer stability from day one’ on environmental laws after the UK has left the EU.
She said: “Our first priority as a government is to give stability. The whole point of the Great Repeal Bill is that we are repealing one act of parliament, the European Communities Act, we are bringing into our law the European acquis as it is today, so there will be stability from one day to the next as we leave the European Union.”
She claimed that the UK has not solely relied on the EU to drive environmental improvements – pointing to laws including the Environmental Protection act, which have been implemented by UK governments – and said that the Conservatives would seek ‘outcomes-based’ laws.
Dr Coffey also hinted that changes to the way that recycling rates are calculated, could also be in line for revision post-Brexit.
She said: “We are negotiating right now about waste and recycling and today within the directive we are still looking at what is weight based. One of my biggest surprises when I came into government is how much of our recycling is the weight of grass clippings.
“I think there is a real opportunity to think about recycling and reuse. What is counted as recycling is counted by weight and heavy weight grass clippings – especially if someone pours a hose over them before they get weighed – it is that kind of thing that we can find a new direction and think properly about a clean growth policy that maximises resource efficiency.”