In May, Defra published a “legally-binding policy statement”, which it said would embed “protections and enhancements for the environment in all government policy-making”.
This included the polluter pays principle, which makes clear that those who cause environmental damage should be responsible for mitigation or compensation.
At the time, Defra explained then that “the publication marks the next step in the delivery of the Environment Act”, which gave ministers the power to implement the resources and waste strategy, among other things.
The draft statement was laid before parliament for scrutiny before the publication of a final version. Defra said at the time it aimed to publish the final environmental principles policy statement in autumn this year.
However, in a statement issued today (28 July), the EAC said that now the Environment Act had passed, there was concern that further delays to its implementation would risk principles being “sidestepped by Whitehall rather than embraced”.
The committee said any new government formed by the incoming Prime Minister “must get a rapid grip on implementation”.
The EAC added: “The UK was previously obliged to follow environmental principles in the EU Treaties, and is still bound by a number of international agreements on environmental protection.
“Brexit offered a significant opportunity to shape the implementation of environmental principles to domestic circumstances while maintaining a high level of protection for wildlife and the environment.”
The EAC is also calling on ministers to commit to a review of the principles’ implementation by the autumn of 2023, to understand how they are being implemented in practice.
The cross-party EAC’s remit remit is to consider the extent to which the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development.
Philip Dunne MP, the EAC’s chair, said today: “The environmental principles policy statement has been over four years in the making. The Government must not continue to drag its feet over the implementation of this important element of the Environment Act. It is a major post-Brexit opportunity, to champion environmental protection at home.
“Yet this potential win from Brexit risks being squandered while ministers figure out how the principles ought to be implemented in Whitehall.
“There is absolutely no reason, after such time has elapsed, for there to be any further delay in making the principles binding on policymakers.”