The Conservatives are currently deeply entangled with hurling themselves into internal combustion over the Brexit vote, with a very public downward slope into cheap, petulant playground behaviour. “Boris said this, Cameron said that, Gove said something else”. If you can concentrate long enough for Boris to stop flicking his hair or David Cameron to actually make eye contact and answer a question properly, you might think you’d glean enough information to make an educated decision to either Remain or Leave, but that would seem unlikely considering both camps’ infantile squawking.
Over 80 groups have registered with the Electoral Commission in respect of the European Referendum vote, but do the only two ‘official’ Leave or Remain campaigns actually present any real, substantive evidence for their cases? Other than fanciful claims of course (see World War III to begin if the UK leaves Europe or the UK will definitely have a school and NHS crisis should we vote to remain. Have they missed the bleeding obvious: we already have a dangerously escalating schools and NHS crisis?). Even President Obama and the vexatious, comb-over-wafting Trump have pitched their opinions to the campaign, fuelling yet more furore within the UK’s leading party.
The controversial tax-payer-funded Remain leaflet proffered very little other than government spin without depth, all at a cost of £9m for the 14-page glossy promo ‘brochures’. The Remain campaign then reported the Leave campaign for their ‘misleading’ leaflet of which the chief campaign spokesperson, James McGrory, backing Britain Stronger in Europe, stated that the Leave campaign was “a grand deception on the British people”.
Brexit and the Environment
One of the serious issues that should be considered is Brexit and the Environment, and the effects of a Leave or Remain vote. What’s the gen? How has the EU benefited our environment here in the UK?
There can be no doubt that European Union membership has improved many aspects of the environment here in the UK. Cleaner beaches, improved water and air standards, wildlife protection and dangerous emission reductions: the policies of the UK have progressed significantly away from our “Dirty Man of Europe” reputation of the 1980s.
The not-for-profit European Institute for Environmental Policy issued a report in March 2016: The Potential Policy and Environmental Consequences for the UK of a Departure from the European Union, in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature UK, the Royal Society for The Protection of Birds and The Wildlife Trust. The report highlights many areas that the UK would be left exposed on, should we vote to leave the European Union.
The report outlines two scenarios: Scenario One would be where the UK retains its access to the internal market as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) – Norway falls into this category. Scenario Two would be where the UK is completely outside of the EU and other agreements, with no internal representation for decision-making nor market participation.
Scenario Two is a clean break from the European Union, with no legally-binding mandate to retain the EU environmental policies, would clearly give the UK government the freedom to strengthen – or weaken – the environmental guidelines that it currently operates under. The problem here, is that the current UK government appear deficient in their ability to take seriously, the worsening issues of climate change and acute environmental events i.e. flooding.
The latest attacks on support and subsidies of the renewable industry in favour of extracting yet more fossil fuels through fracking, indicates the overall Tory reluctance to be a positive, progressive government on climate issues. The shocking discarding of the Carbon Capture Scheme (CCS) so far into the bidding schedule was hard to comprehend. The £1billion grant was suddenly dropped by the UK government, even though CCS is essential to mitigating climate change by reducing fossil fuel emissions.
Even after the Climate Talks in Paris last year, Cameron et al appeared unconcerned to the growing danger of a changing climate and actioned yet more swathes of fracking licenses across the UK and under National Parks. If the Conservative government truly had a dedication to aim for no more than a 1.5-degree increase in global temperature in their priorities, a stronger pledge for renewables would have been made and no further fossil fuel extraction would be supported by the many tax breaks and governmental inside-buddy relations that the oil and gas industry currently enjoys.
The report does acknowledge some weaknesses within the EU’s ability to act on the environment: “Pooling sovereignty within the EU involves compromise and trade-offs and transaction costs of various kinds.” This is a critical point in reaching compromises to improve on targets and for progression on climate protection
However, the UK government’s blatant and reckless disregard for many life-supporting services in the UK – schools, refugee crisis, flooding, our NHS, industry, poverty – the list is endless – would suggest that without accountability to a wider network of countries, there would be a wholly negative impact for the environment without an overarching protection of the EU.
The report determined that:
“In conclusion, it is likely that a UK departure from the EU would leave the British environment in a more vulnerable and uncertain position than if the country were to remain as a member of the EU.”
The Green Party are backing the Remain vote, with their own “Greens For A Better Europe” campaign. Their support for the environmental aspect of being in the EU is centred around air pollution improvements from being part of the European Union and its directives. They believe that ‘cross-border solutions’ will be effective in mitigating climate change. The Greens also share the widespread concern that should we vote to leave the EU, the UK government would effectively “water-down” the environmental policies already set within the EU: many Conservatives believe that EU regulations on pollution and emissions hamper business and corporations. Additionally, the regressive decisions surrounding the future of renewable energy in the UK are a serious factor without EU pressure to ensure an increase for sustainable energy usage targets.
A recent letter to The Guardian, also supports the Remain campaign, stating that should we vote to leave the EU, the UK would lose its “diplomatic leverage” in playing a part to further act on climate change at the global table. This was penned by the influential environmental figureheads: Craig Bennett, Executive director of Friends of the Earth; Tom Burke Chairman of E3G; Amy Cameron, Director of 10:10; John Gummer, Chair of Committee on Climate Change; Chris Huhne, former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change; Michael Jacobs, visiting professor at Grantham Research Institute, LSE; John Sauven, Executive Director of Greenpeace UK; Matthew Spencer, Director of Green Alliance; James Thornton, Chief Executive of ClientEarth; Crispin Tickell, former British ambassador to the United Nations and Adair Turner, former chair of the Committee on Climate Change. The group ended the letter stating:
“Our experience of the past 20 years leads us to conclude that we are stronger, safer and greener in the European Union.”
One environmentalist who appears not entirely convinced of remaining in the EU – but will vote Remain anyway – is George Monbiot. The writer and self-professed “pro-European Eurosceptic” encapsulated his stance well:
“If you are concerned about arbitrary power, and the ability of special interests to capture and co-opt the apparatus of the state, the UK is in an even worse position outside the EU than it is within. Though the EU’s directives are compromised and under threat, they are a lot better than nothing. Without them we can kiss goodbye to the protection of our wildlife, our health, our conditions of employment and, one day perhaps, our fundamental rights. Without a formal constitution, with our antiquated voting arrangements and a corrupt and corrupting party funding system, nothing here is safe.”
Monbiot’s gloomy position is comparable to opting for the best of a bad bunch: being part of the European Union is not a 100% perfect solution by any stretch, but for the UK’s damaged political system, rife with corruption and favours-for-friends within Westminster, voting to Remain feels somewhat more reassuring than being marooned on a tiny island without the protective backbone of EU environmental policies. Climate change and air pollution see no borders: for this reason alone, a pro-European stance is a vote for cross-border environmental action for a better climate.