Minister questioned on Conservative commitment to environmental protection

Two post Brexit issues dominated a hustings last week convened by Greener UK to scrutinise the environmental plans of the major parties ahead of this week’s election: environmental protections and agricultural subsidies.

Environmental protections post Brexit.

Water minister Therese Coffey was tackled by her co-speakers – Liberal Democrat spokesperson for environment Baroness Parminter, shadow minister for climate change Barry Gardiner, and Green Party representative and London Assembly member Caroline Russell – on the lack of clarity on plans for environmental protection post Brexit. Coffey insisted the Great Repeal Bill would provide for a stable transition, and subsequently Parliament would have the opportunity to consider whether transitioned laws were working as well as they might. She criticised specifically the Nitrates Directive, which suggests that may be one of the first areas up for review.

However, Gardiner pointed out that many Conservatives see Brexit as a vehicle for deregulation. He feared that the elements of existing protections that can’t be automatically imported will be introduced through secondary legislation, which would mean it could be “repealed and changed at a whim” (a point Coffey rejected). Consequently, Gardiner said Labour would not support the Great Repeal Bill and had instead proposed the EU Rights and Protections Bill. Meanwhile, Russell questioned who would police environmental protections, noting many do not trust that commercial interests won’t be allowed to outweigh environmental interests.

The future of agricultural subsidies post Brexit

Gardiner highlighted a split in the Conservative party between those who want to abolish subsidies altogether and those (especially those in rural seats) who want to keep them. Baroness Parminter emphasised subsides should stay but should be transitioned to support all the public goods and services land manager provide, not just food production. Gardiner argued subsidies should be concentrated on smaller farms. Coffey restated her party’s commitment to keep the £3bn support in place through to 2022, while policies are worked out for beyond that.

Greener UK is a group of 13 major environmental organisations with a combined membership of 8m.