A bill to remove EU-derived laws that include 570 environmental regulations will cause serious ecological harm, charities and MPs have warned.
The Retained EU Law Bill, dubbed the ‘Brexit Freedoms Bill,’ could revoke hundreds of laws that protect wild places and ensure standards for water quality, pollution, and the use of pesticides, according to the Wildlife Trusts and other nature charities.
Campaigners say the removal of the Habitats Regulations is a particular concern as they defend 18.8 million hectares of wildlife sites across the UK from “inappropriate and damaging” development.
The Conservatives say the bill, which had its second reading on Tuesday, gives the UK the opportunity to develop new laws that “best fit the needs of the country and grow the economy“.
But ahead of the debate Patrick Begg, director of outdoors and natural resources at the National Trust, said: “Over 570 environmental, animal welfare and other important safeguards are at risk of being erased over the next 18 months, with little indication of what may replace them.
“This is deeply concerning. Nature is finite, once it’s gone we can’t get it back. And it’s already close to breaking point: global wildlife populations have declined by an average of 70% since 1970.
“Government’s role should be to nurture our natural world, our rivers, seas, woodland and wildlife which underpin the economy as much as they do society’s wellbeing.
“Halting, and then reversing, serious declines in nature is fundamental to all our lives, and that starts with maintaining basic protections.
“We urge the government to withdraw the REUL Bill and instead put in place a more appropriate process, giving any new environmental laws the time and resources needed for proper scrutiny through parliament.”
Green MP Caroline Lucas branded the bill a “deregulatory race to the bottom”.
“This Orwellian ‘Brexit Freedoms Bill’ being debated in Parliament today is a bonfire of hundreds of vital laws and regulations which protect nature, workers’ rights and conditions, and so much more. It must not pass,” she added.
During the debate on Tuesday, Labour’s Hilary Benn branded it a “shocking bill” adding “it’s a form of linguistic and legislative purge”.
He said: “Another piece of legislation introduced in the name of Brexit which we were repeatedly told is about restoring Parliament’s sovereignty and supremacy and yet what this Bill is about is giving ministers absolute control over whole swathes of legislation that impact upon our national life by cutting members of Parliament out of the process almost altogether and the public as well.
“This is a bad bill, it threatens lots of laws that people value, it creates uncertainty, it takes powers away from the House. It allows ministers to repeal the law by doing nothing and for all of these reasons it should be rejected.”
But the government has insisted the proposals would not weaken environmental protections.
Opening the debate in Parliament on Tuesday, Business minister Dean Russell said: “We will use the powers of this Bill to ensure that our environmental law is functioning and able to drive improved environmental outcomes, with the UK continuing to be a world leader in environmental protection.”
“On January 31, this Government announced plans to bring forward the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, this Bill is the culmination of the Government’s work to untangle the United Kingdom from nearly 50 years of EU membership.
“Through this Bill we will create a more agile and innovative regulatory environment that would not have been possible should we have been a member of the European Union still.
“This will benefit people and businesses across the United Kingdom.”