Environment Bill: Campaigners' anger at government's fresh delay to post-Brexit legislation

·3-min read

Campaigners have criticised the government's "dither and delay" over flagship environmental legislation after it was held up once again.

The Environment Bill seeks to write environmental principles into UK law for the first time following Brexit.

It was first announced in July 2018 by former prime minister Theresa May and introduced to parliament in October 2019 under her successor Boris Johnson.

At the time, Mr Johnson described the legislation as "a lodestar by which we will guide our country towards a cleaner and greener future".

However, the bill's progress through parliament was stymied by the 2019 general election meaning it had to be reintroduced to MPs in January last year.

And ministers on Tuesday delayed the legislation once again as they acted to allow the bill to pass over into the next parliamentary session - although they stressed they still expected it to become law "by autumn".

Environment minister Rebecca Pow blamed the coronavirus crisis for the new delay to the legislation.

She told MPs: "The COVID pandemic has upended the familiar procedures we are all used to following in this place, and indeed across almost every aspect of our life.

"The necessary changes we have had to make to our procedures in order to keep Members, the public, and of course staff safe have put extraordinary pressure on the parliamentary timetable.

"And I want to reassure all Members that the government remain committed to getting this Environment Bill on to the statute book.

"We committed in our manifesto to create the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on Earth, and this Bill forms the cornerstone of that commitment."

Labour's shadow environment secretary, Luke Pollard, said the delay sent a "terrible message" to the world ahead of the UK's hosting of the COP26 climate summit later this year.

"It was supposed to be in law before Britain left the Brexit transition period and it is not," he added.

"It was supposed to be bold and world-leading because of the urgency of the climate crisis and it is not. This is a go-slow government when it comes to environmental action."

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Outside of the Commons, environmental campaigners also reacted with anger to the fresh delay to the legislation.

The Wildlife Trusts described the delay as "deeply troubling" and said it would "raise questions" over the government's "commitment to leaving the environment in a better state for the next generation".

Greenpeace UK's head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, said: "Time and time again the government tells us that 'urgent action' is needed to restore nature, that it will 'build back greener' and that we can't afford to 'dither and delay'.

"What then is it playing at by delaying the most important piece of environmental legislation for decades?

"This bill was supposed to leave our environment in a better state for the next generation, but at this rate it'll be the next generation who have to clean up the mess."

And Harry Bowell, director of land and nature at the National Trust, said: "Our environment continues to decline, with species and habitats being lost and climate change impacts increasing.

"Now we are outside the EU, we urgently need our own laws to protect and restore our environment - not delays."