Brexit poses real risk to the environment, says Labour MP

Posted On: 
19th October 2017

Labour MP Angela Smith and WWF CEO, Tanya Steele today opened a week-long installation in the Houses of Parliament calling for the environment to be at the heart of politics and the Brexit negotiations.


Guests from across the political spectrum were present for the unveiling of the WWF’s pop-up exhibit, which is running from October 16-20, highlighting the state of the UK’s river systems and the need for act to protect and restore these precious ecosystem.

The conservation organisation is calling for the restoration of Britain’s environment to be front and centre of political debate during and after the UK has left the European Union.

Speaking in front of a river display, Ms Smith, the former shadow leader or the Commons, praised the WWF for its “very timely intervention” as MPs prepare for further scrutiny of the EU Withdrawal Bill.

Ms Smith warned that, as things stand, the UK is in “great danger” of missing the deadline for transposing EU law onto British statute before formally leaving the European Union at the end of March 2019.

As such, she said MPs must ensure that a mechanism is available to hold the Government to account on meeting environmental standards, with the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) set to end after Brexit.

The presence of the ECJ prompted ministers to invest in the Thames Tideway Scheme, a major new sewer to help deal with waste disposal in London, she argued.

“There is much at stake – Brexit represents a real risk to the UK in every respect, but especially in relation to not only protecting our environment, but improving it,” she said.

“So, well done to WWF for raising the importance of water to our environment at this critical point in the legislative timetable.”

The WWF would like to see ministers develop an ambitous 25-year plan for the environment to preserve andrestore our natural environment for generations to come. .

On top of this, the conservation organisation would like to see new legislation to tackle the poor management of rivers in England and Wales.

The WWF argues that restoring 75% of rivers, lakes and Wetlands to good health could benefit the UK economy to the tune of £8.4bn through increased tourism, recreation and improved flood resilience.

Tania Steele, the Chief Executive Office of the WWF, called for Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s vision for the environment to be moved “into firm plans” and given the “impetus” to deliver it.

Turning to the European Union, Ms Steele said that EU legislation such as the Water Framework Directive has “yielded many benefits to the UK”, as she called for environmental protections to be incorporated into UK law.

“It has ensured that we have undoubtedly improved our water systems, but we have plenty more to do, and these improvements must not be lost. As we move into the Brexit process, we really must ensure that critical principles such as polluter-pays is not lost,” she said.

“The prospect of not holding those who pollute to account, to not only repair the damage they make but also to ensure that it never happens again, is a critical principle.”

Ms Steele urged MPs to make the case for restrictions on the use of secondary legislation in the EU Withdrawal Bill, to ensure parliamentarians have a say on any changes made during the conversion of EU law.

She added: “Fresh water is important, there is no doubt about that. And as we leave the EU, we really must ensure that as part of the 25-year plan, that not only is there leading environmental legislation, but there is leading legislation to protect our land and our seas in the future.”

A vibrant display illustrated key statistics about the state of Britain’s rivers, including that:

  • 43% of rivers in England and Wales are failing because of pollution from rural areas
  • 44% of rivers in England and Wales are failing because of sewage pollution
  • 23% of rivers in England are at risk of unsustainable abstraction
  • 13% of freshwater species are threatened with extinction
  • 80% of rivers in England and Wales are failing to reach good environmental status

Guests at the launch included former Environment secretary Caroline Spelman and the Shadow Minister for Flooding and Coastal Communities Holly Lynch.