Gove urged to rethink 'unlawful' move on wildlife protections

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 24 June 2019

MCS and ClientEarth has today urged the Environment Secretary to rethink new Brexit regulations put forward by his department, which are being legally challenged because they pose a risk to UK seas and wildlife.

Grey Seal pup
© Graeme Cresswell

These are now serious matters requiring Michael Gove’s ministerial attention. He must act as an urgent priority, because if he doesn’t the UK will have much weaker laws protecting our seas and wildlife after Brexit

Sandy Luk,
MCS Chief Executive Officer

Now that Micheal Gove is out of the running to become the next leader of the Conservative Party (and Prime Minister), the two environmental organisations, working with lawyers at Leigh Day Solicitors, say he must focus urgently on reversing what they say is an unlawful move by the government.

They have challenged parts of the regulations, made under the EU Withdrawal Act, which they say is an unlawful misuse of Brexit powers.

Despite repeated promises to the contrary, the UK government has introduced measures behind the scenes that could put seals, otters, dolphins and seabirds and many other vulnerable animals, plants and precious sites around the UK, in jeopardy after Brexit.

MCS CEO, Sandy Luk, said: “These are now serious matters requiring Michael Gove’s ministerial attention. He must act as an urgent priority, because if he doesn’t the UK will have much weaker laws protecting our seas and wildlife after Brexit. He must reverse these damaging changes made to the law before the UK is due to leave the EU in October.

“Mr Gove can avoid this case, by simply removing some words from the regulations and clarifying the law, which unlawfully weaken the UK’s marine protections and put at risk precious wildlife, habitats and important sites.”

Specifically, the charities are challenging the Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs over parts of two statutory instruments, made under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act of 2018, which change the existing regulation of habitat and species conservation.

ClientEarth UK law and policy advisor, Dr Tom West, said: “Michael Gove has the power to set this right, before the matter gets before a judge. His department has unsatisfactorily brushed aside our concerns, and its refusal to properly explain or engage with us has left us no choice but to seek to challenge the regulations in the High Court.

“The UK government has repeatedly promised that the environment would be safeguarded after Brexit. Instead, behind the scenes, sweeping new powers have been pushed through which unlawfully weaken environmental protections with little scrutiny from parliament, the public or civil society. These powers must be reversed immediately by Mr Gove.”

Defra’s changes effectively alter the obligation to manage recognised conservation sites and add potential limits to the types of areas set aside to protect marine animals that range over wide areas.

Legal papers were served on the Secretary of State for the Environment last Thursday. The charities have applied for judicial review. A decision on a hearing is yet to be made by the High Court.

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