EXCLUSIVE by Scottish Energy News
Britain’s leading environmental lawyers have fired a Brexit warning shot across the bows of the Brit-Govt over its power-grab plans to retain environment and climate-change powers at Westminster instead of devolving them to the Scottish Parliament.
If British Independence from the EU bloc goes ahead in a ‘hard Brexit’ – these ‘common powers’ presently exercised by Brussels – should devolve to Scotland (and also Wales and N. Ireland) – under the present Anglo-Scottish Union and the Scotland Act.
Not only has this politically incensed the minority SNP-led Scot-Govt, the UK Environmental Law Association – the foremost body of environmental lawyers in the UK – has warned that the Westminster power-grab plan is politically contentious and controversial.
The UK Environmental Law Association is composed of 1,400 academics, barristers, solicitors, consultants, and judges involved in the practice, study and formulation of environmental law across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Andrew Bryce, joint chairman of the Brexit Task Force set up by UKELA, said:
“If the UK and devolved governments wish to set standards domestically after Brexit a huge amount of work will be needed to develop procedures and institutions for doing this.
“If arrangements are not put in place, we risk having standards that are frozen in time, and that are not capable of addressing technical innovations or developments in scientific understanding of environmental risks.”
A spokesman for UKELA added: “Much of the debate around Brexit and the environment has focused on whether withdrawal from the EU might result in environmental standards in the UK being downgraded.
“Concerns have also been expressed that, once the UK is no longer required to implement ambitious, often challenging EU standards, these will be relaxed in order to reduce costs to business.
“In this context, UKELA takes the position that the level of environmental protection must not be diminished after Brexit. In many areas current standards must be maintained as a matter of international law, because the EU-derived standards serve also to implement international environmental agreements.
“Withdrawal from the EU raises the prospect of the UK ceasing to be involved in this activity, and having to decide whether and how to develop domestic processes for setting environmental standards.
“An approach of‘ keeping pace’ also raises the prospect of the UK committing to future standards developed under EU-level procedures that it has no influence over. Consideration will need to be given to ways of maintaining some form of continued UK influence in those procedures after Brexit.
“If standards are to be developed domestically after Brexit, the UK and devolved governments will need to make provision for reviewing and revising the standards that apply on Exit Day and for setting new domestic standards in the future. This is to avoid having standards that are frozen in time, and that are not capable of being adapted to address future developments in technical processes and in scientific understanding of environmental risks.
“The UK and devolved governments <in Scotland> will also need to decide whether and how to provide for common frameworks for setting environmental standards across the UK. This issue raises complex and politically sensitive questions related to devolution.
“Given the range of important and difficult policy issues at stake, we consider it crucial that proposals for new arrangements for domestic standard-setting are developed in consultation with key stakeholders.
“New arrangements should be tailored to different areas of environmental regulation and appropriate for the different UK administrations. Draft Regulations and guidance documents should be produced and consulted on, prior to adoption.
“The UK and devolved governments will also need to make provision for reviewing and revising the standards that apply on Brexit Day <in March 2019> and setting new domestic standards in the future.
“This is to avoid having standards that are frozen in time on Brexit Day, and that are not capable of being adapted to address future developments in technical processes and in scientific understanding of environmental risks.
“EU law has provided for common standards and frameworks for environmental regulation across the EU and within the UK.
“Withdrawal from the EU and adopting a ‘domestic’ approach to environmental standard-setting brings the possibility of greater divergence of approaches in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“Given this possibility, the UK and devolved governments will need to decide whether and how to provide for common frameworks for setting environmental standards after Brexit.
“This raises complex and politically sensitive questions related to <Scottish> Devolution – in particular, whether to provide frameworks for ‘commonly agreed standards’(reached by consensus among all the governments) or for ‘common UK standards’(which might be unilaterally imposed by the UK government.”
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