Northern Ireland included in the draft Environment Bill – a game changer?

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Northern Ireland and UK departments are working together on including Northern Ireland into the draft Environment Bill, which could pull the UK further into alignment with EU environmental rules.

The draft Environment Bill was due originally to apply only to England, as environmental policy is a devolved matter in the UK. This could have led to a regulatory gap in Northern Ireland post-Brexit, as since 2017 there has been no sitting Assembly able to legislate.

A letter from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEAR) of Northern Ireland confirmed that discussions are undergoing to include Northern Ireland in the draft Environment Bill. Officials from both governments are said now to be working on co-designing the application of the provisions. The focus mainly lies on extending the remit of the Office for Environmental Protection, as well as of the environmental principles.

Northern Ireland shares with Ireland cross-border protection mechanisms and site management, which could arguably have an impact on the Bill itself. As an example the letter notes that special attention needs to be given to transboundary issues such as air and water pollution, and must therefore be solved jointly with Ireland. Moreover, Mary Creagh, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, considers that in the event of the backstop coming into force, the whole of the UK would have to regard regulatory alignment with the EU.

Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ letter to House of Commons
Climate Home News article

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