By Tony Whitbread
In May I wrote to the Chief Executives and Chairmen of ‘Britain Stronger In Europe’ and ‘Vote Leave’, to our 16 local MPs and 10 South East England MEPs, inviting them to tell me how any benefits to Sussex wildlife from current EU policy and laws would be maintained after the Referendum. Just to recap, the questions I posed were:
Under the UK’s new ‘special status’ within the EU following the Referendum, what are the guarantees that environmental benefits arising from EU membership will be maintained?
Following the UK’s withdrawal from membership of the EU, what mechanisms will be put in place to replace the environmental benefits conferred through EU membership?
Here is a roundup of the views I’ve received (up to today), you can read the full responses here.
It’s disappointing to report that no response has been received from the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign. Responses received from three MPs/MEPs aligned with the ‘leave’ campaign suggest that
- “All EU law will get transposed into UK law” and that any repeals would be voted on;[i] and
- Environmental protection would be promoted through increased global cooperation such as through the G7 informal bloc of industrialised countries.
In contrast, the ‘Britain Stronger In Europe’ campaign response highlighted that there is:
- A strong environmental case to remain in the EU (with reference to the IEEP report[ii]);
- In spite of imperfections of the EU, compelling evidence that 40 years of green directives benefit the environment;
- No evidence that these benefits would continue if UK was to leave the EU.
Responses from three MPs/MEPs aligned with the ‘remain’ campaign consider that the UK environment has benefitted substantially from EU membership (while recognising that improvements could be made to EU structures); cross-border action on environmental matters is essential; there are signs that in the event of UK’s departure from the EU, the prominent ‘leave’ campaigners in Government will not prioritise strong environment legislation; while the UK would be free to establish stronger or weaker environmental laws, existing protections would be at risk of being scrapped; and the UK would no longer be in a position to influence more effective Europe-wide actions on the environment.
- Sussex wildlife has benefitted from EU environmental policy and laws, and in particular the nature directives, the Water Framework Directive and the precautionary principle;
- EU policies which have in the past been detrimental to wildlife in Sussex are gradually being modified to be more supportive of environmental needs (but more reform is required);
- There is no convincing evidence that, in the event of the UK leaving the EU, the benefits that EU policies and laws have brought to wildlife in Sussex would be retained under national legislation;
So overall, what do I think are the implications for Sussex wildlife and the Trust for the future either ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the European Union? EU legislation is always evolving. While it’s clear that the nature directives would be lost from our armoury if the UK leaves the EU, it’s equally clear that pressures to water down their power are likely to continue if the UK remains in. We have benefitted from other elements of environmental legislation and policy, including rights for better access to information, a more transparent and inclusive process to decision making on plans and projects likely to have a significant effect on the environment, and the application of the precautionary principle.
I am not, of course, telling anyone how to vote on Thursday; but I do want everyone in Sussex to take account of the potential consequences for our wildlife of remaining in or leaving the European Union. My view is that the benefits to Sussex wildlife and the ability of the Trust to achieve its charitable objectives are likely to be greater if the UK remains in the EU, able to take advantage of and to shape and influence EU environmental policies and laws. I recently saw a blog from the naturalist, broadcaster and writer Steve Backshall who takes readers through his approach to getting informed on the issue and arriving at a decision on how to vote. He concludes “Our membership of the EU is a huge subject, infinitely complex and potentially impacting every aspect of life. The environment is just one element, and neither I - nor any of the organisations I spoke to - believe in telling anyone how to vote. I will base my decision on what’s important to me, I believe you should do the same.”[iv] I agree wholeheartedly!
[i] The proposal that EU law can simply be transposed into national legislation appears to be flawed. This argument was presented recently by George Eustice MP (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/may/30/brexit-spirit-crushing-green-directives-minister-george-eustice). It has been challenged by the environmental commentator Miles King (see: https://anewnatureblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/30/george-eustice-clueless-on-impacts-of-brexit-on-laws-protecting-uk-wildlife/) using as an example the 2010 Habitats Regulations implementing the Habitats Directive.
[iv] Steve Backshall (10 May 2016) Blog: ‘Conservation and Brexit.’ http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/steve-backshall/brexit-environment_b_9881570.html