Brexit: Lords defeats government to back EU environmental standards after withdrawal

Politics

It is the 15th defeat Theresa May’s Brexit legislation has suffered at the hands of the Lords

The House of Lords has defied the government by passing a plan to maintain EU eco-standards after Brexit, inflicted yet another defeat on Theresa May’s withdrawal plans.

Peers accused ministers of using Brexit to water down environmental protections currently in place due to Britain’s EU membership, and of proposing they be replaced with a “toothless imitation”.

But the government denied the accusations and insisted their own proposals would strengthen protections, while supportive peers accused those behind the defeat of trying to de-rail Ms May’s Brexit legislation.

Lords voted by 294 to 244, a majority of 50, to amend Ms May’s EU Withdrawal Bill to ensure existing standards are maintained, constituting the 15th defeat in the upper chamber on the legislation.

As third reading began today, independent crossbencher Lord Krebs said the government’s post-Brexit plans to protect the environment were simply “too weak”.

He said: “We’re talking about the protection of our air quality, our water quality, rivers, oceans, habitats and biodiversity.

“Although the rules protecting our environment will be translated into UK legislation, crucially the environmental principles underpinning those rules will not and the current mechanisms for enforcing the rules will disappear and not be replaced.”

Lord Krebs said the amendment to the bill would plug this gap by ensuring the maintenance of EU environmental principles and standards.

Labour’s Baroness Jones of Whitchurch said the government’s consultation document on environmental protection was a “pale imitation of what we had been led to believe the document would say”.

She said the promises had been “watered down” in a document which gave the environment less protection and provided for a watchdog with less power.

She added that the proposed environmental watchdog was a “toothless imitation of the powers currently exercised by the European Commission to intervene and compel”.

Warning of a governance gap, she said the amendment was the only way to maintain the “spirit and substance of continuity with EU rights and the only way to protect the environment for future generations”

Responding, Brexit minister Lord Callanan said it was “disappointing” the amendment had been proposed.

He said: “We have debated the important topic of environmental protection on numerous occasions and the Government has taken clear action in response to many of the points raised.”

He added: “We have endeavoured to provide as much transparency as possible to our plan for ensuring environmental protections are enhanced and indeed strengthened, not weakened, as we leave the EU.”

Conservative Lord Framlingham said the time spent debating all of the amendments had been “dark days” for the upper chamber.

He argued that people “who should know better” had put down amendments which had nothing to do with the legislation, but had caused “irreparable damage” to the reputation of the Lords.

But Tory colleague Lord Cormack told him: “If anybody is doing damage to the reputation of this House it is you.”

Former environment secretary Lord Deben also later rubbished Lord Framlingham’s comments, telling the peer that the Lords were “running entirely with public opinion”.

The Tory peer, who served in John Major’s government,  said: “I want us to strengthen the hand of the future, I want us to strengthen the hand of the commonality of Britain, my noble friend Lord Framlingham suggests that somehow or other we’re running against public opinion.

“I have to say we’re running entirely with public opinion on this, the public wants proper protection, the public wants to make sure that their children and their grandchildren live in an enhanced and better world.”

The government has indicated that it will overturn as many of the amendments passed by the Lords when the legislation returns to the Commons.