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Northern Ireland calls for greater environmental protection post-Brexit

08 March 2019

The Environmental Audit Committee has published a letter from Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs calling for the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill to be extended to cover the region to give it greater protection once the UK has left the EU.

The letter from the Department’s Permanent Secretary Dr Denis McMahon states:

“Officials have undertaken the considerations required by the [Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018] and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s Guidance issued under the Act and concluded that it is in the public interest to ask for the Bill’s extension to NI. In reaching this conclusion we have noted the [EAC] Committee’s own recommendation that the Office of Environmental Protection should have a UK-wide remit and concerns that the inability to address gaps in environmental governance will result in Northern Ireland having less effective environmental protection after leaving the EU.”

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Department (DAERA) has written to the Environment Secretary Rt Hon Michael Gove MP who has signalled his agreement to the request that Northern Ireland be included in the draft Environment Bill. Officials from DAERA are now working with Defra officials to draft provisions that will extend to NI the principles and governance measures in the Bill.

DAERA notes that trans-boundary issues are raised by the UK’s departure from the EU because NI is the only part of the UK to share a land border with another EU Member State: “This raises issues in respect of environmental standards for areas such as air and water pollution which don’t respect borders.”

Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh MP said:

“The Secretary of State’s decision to extend the remit of the OEP to cover Northern Ireland remit has ramifications for the whole of the UK.

It creates an anomaly for Scotland in terms of animal and plant protection and highlights the importance of our recommendations that the Office for Environmental Protection must be co-designed and co-owned by all the nations of the UK in order to be more resilient, independent and effective.

It also raises questions about whether the application of the Environment Bill to Northern Ireland will necessitate the rest of the UK maintaining regulatory alignment with the European Union under the Irish Backstop, effectively requiring the whole of the UK to stay within a customs union and single market.”

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