Mike Freer: We need to tackle climate change but can’t risk crashing the economy

Mike Freer MP this week. Picture: Joshua Thurston

Mike Freer MP this week. Picture: Joshua Thurston - Credit: Archant

It’s 9am and government whip Mike Freer is in his office, herding his “flock”.

Mike Freer MP this week. Picture: Joshua Thurston

Mike Freer MP this week. Picture: Joshua Thurston - Credit: Archant

He's talking to the deputy chief whip after trying to get an MP back into London in case there's another vote on a deal for Britain to leave the EU.

The political discourse has been dominated by Brexit for the last three years. But for the past fortnight Extinction Rebellion has been drawing attention - finally - to the climate emergency.

The MP for Finchley and Golders Green, who was elected in 2010, says he is supportive of the issue, but believes it needs to be balanced with the government's responsibility to "keep the lights on."

He said: "It is important, and it has clearly risen up the political consciousness. One of the things that doesn't really get covered is that Mrs Thatcher was the first world leader to actually recognise global warming.

"The argument from Extinction Rebellion is that we've got to stop it now, and we've only got five years. In an ideal world you might want to do that. A government has to be responsible and keep people in work, the lights on and the economy going. That doesn't always win you friends among those who are slightly more purist but we have to be more practical. You can't suddenly turn off an economy for five years.

"You could say: in 2025 there will be no holiday flights, virtually no commercial flights, no cars. That is fine. You can take that decision but given we are a global trading nation, how are you going to export and keep the lights on?"

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Mr Freer, 59, praised the current Conservative government's pledge to go carbon neutral by 2050, and said he believed it could be achieved sooner.

"We have decarbonised faster than any G20 economy," he said. "In 2010 renewables accounted for 6pc of energy it's now 35 to 36pc. Coal is down to 6pc of energy and will be turned off by 2025.

"I'm not a scientist, so I don't know if the pace of climate change has accelerated or stayed the same. It was flagged up, but I'm not sure anyone really understood exactly what was going to happen and the pace of it."

The MP also defended his votes in the House of Commons which has seen him back his party's policy of expanding Heathrow, continuing fracking and shunning attempts for carbon capture and storage.

He said: "The biggest cause of emissions around Heathrow is people driving to the airport. Are you putting a congestion charge in, or putting in a low emissions zone or improving rail links?

"In an ideal world would you do it? Maybe not. But China is opening a new airport every week and we are losing business to Schipol or Dubai. Not expanding one of the airports wasn't an option if we weren't going to get left behind."

Closer to home he said he was unhappy with Barnet Council's decision to stop food waste collections. He led the borough for four years and still lives there. He said central government needed to be better at supporting local authorities.

The MP tells the Ham&High he'd like to get an electric car but a lack of infrastructure stands in his way. He said: "Barnet are putting in charging points in lamp posts, but it took us several years to get legislation in place to do that. I would get one if I had a charging point."

He added: "I try to change my behaviour as much as I can. Am I saintly? Absolutely not. On big decisions you try and minimise your impact. I am optimistic that we can make a significant difference. I'm also quite optimistic about humankind. [...] There will be some brainy individual who will invent something to take us out of it."