The environmental cost of Brexit

Written by Science

Our new Prime Minister is keen to remind us that ‘Brexit means Brexit’.But, what she won’t tell you is how badly Brexit will hurt Britain, particularly since the negotiations are in the hands of Messrs Johnson, Fox and Davis. As someone who campaigned passionately for Remain, I don’t think Brexit can have a happy ending, but even I will at least concede that some scenarios are worse than others. We must respect democracy and therefore leave, but a good exit deal would see us stay in the single market, keep free movement and retain all workers’ rights, security and environmental laws that the EU has passed over the years. Unfortunately, the Tory leadership is eager to placate the eurosceptics in their own party. Many of the eurosceptics are climate sceptics too, and are keen to let big business pollute our environment if it means greater profits. David Davis, the man in charge of our exit negotiations, is one such person. I have no doubt, therefore, that he will be only too glad to cast off all the environmental legislation formulated by the EU parliament that British is currently legally bound to abide. Similarly, Liam Fox, as he traipses around the world trying to scrounge trade deals for us, will surely be keen to offer multi-national corporations the lure of the most relaxed environmental laws in the world in a Brexit Britain, where profit comes before sustainability every time.

Brexit Britain, where profit comes before sustainability every time

If we are taken out of the EU’s environmental protections, as I strongly suspect we will, the cost on our environment will be enormous, and as dedicated europhile this is the issue I am most worried about in the long-term. Economic fluctuations and border controls can be dealt with in time, but one of the EU’s greatest strengths was bringing governments to do things they wouldn’t do on their own. When 28 heads of government were put in a room together, each wanted to seem the most selfless, the most cooperative, the most progressive, and this resulted in environmentalism – which isn’t exactly a vote winner – being far higher up the agenda in the EU parliament than it was in any of the domestic parliaments. This was particularly true of Britain. The Institute for European Environmental Policy estimated that the body of EU environmental law amounted to well over 500 directives, regulations and decisions, making up for a serious deficiency in British legislation. The first ever Environmental Action Programme was adopted by the EEC (as it was then called) in July 1973. Meanwhile, the UK did not pass its own first Climate Change Act until 2008. Under the last Labour government we achieved our cleanest air, rivers and beaches since before the industrial revolution thanks to EU anti-pollution laws.

All this progress is at risk. We can only hope that Davis and his team prioritise our environment over the interests of the Tory Party’s funders in multi-national corporations. Goodbye clean environment, it was nice knowing you.



Last modified: 17th October 2016

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