The technical changes were made with little democratic scrutiny and escaped the attention of many observers, including parliamentarians.
The majority of EU environmental laws that have been transferred into UK law no longer contain clauses that require them to be updated, analysis by academics has revealed.
The UK government has transferred EU environmental laws to the UK statute book as “retained EU law”. Many EU environment laws contain provisions requiring that they are regularly reviewed and revised. However, analysis of technical changes to the laws has revealed that two-thirds have had these clauses removed.
Several different topic areas, including climate change, waste, agriculture, and heavy metals are affected, according to professor Andy Jordan and Dr Brendan Moore from Brexit and Environment, a network of academic experts on EU environmental law.
Jordan and Moore predict that the laws will become less effective over time, without updates to take into account new technology, science and international agreements.
They argue that the technical changes were made with little democratic scrutiny and escaped the attention of many observers, including parliamentarians.
During trade negotiations, the EU has insisted that the UK commits to keeping a level playing field on environmental laws, which the government has refused. However, removing the requirement to update laws may mean that they become less effective than EU laws by default, they fear.
The government should reinsert the clauses into the laws, or give new watchdog the Office for Environmental Protection the power to monitor and report on retained EU law, they suggest.
A spokesperson for the environment department (DEFRA): “We have been clear we will not weaken any of our environmental standards. Now we have left the EU, we will look to enhance these even further where possible.”
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for the Ecologist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.