Opinion: Impact Brexit has on environment must not be forgotten
PUBLISHED: 12:30 09 May 2019
Those who have followed my work over the past few years will know my position on Brexit.
They will know that I voted against triggering Article 50, that I voted to retain our Single Market and Customs Union membership, for a peoples' vote, and that I support freedom of movement for people. However, they will also know that Parliament is deadlocked.
The current stalemate poses many policy-related concerns, but lesser discussed is the impact that Brexit may have on the environment. In theory, nothing should stop ministers from retaining or even enhancing the existing environmental protections. Sadly, however, those governing have previously talked of "getting rid of all the green crap" when deciding on environmental strategy.
Achieving a green consensus is of the utmost urgency, but climate change remains too far down the agenda, with many MPs abstaining on last week's motion to declare a "climate emergency".
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As Greta Thunberg said in her recent address to Parliament, "We cannot solve an emergency without treating it like an emergency". Following years of devastating flooding, forest fires, and ecological decline, we must all work together to deliver a sustainable future for the future generations.
By extending the Article 50 deadline until October, we have secured a temporary reprieve that should allow us to reflect on our priorities. Brexit poses fundamental changes for the health of our economy and for the security for our country, and we must not be complacent on what life in the UK could look like without the framework of EU environmental law.
As the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research states, it is the European Union that upholds our environmental standards through legal directives, such as the Bathing Water Directive or Birds Directive. We continue to have access to the European Environment Agency and the European Chemicals Agency databases, and the UK continues to be subject to legal enforcement by the court of justice of the European Union.
For now, the environmental protections are binding, and this guides how we can combat the pollutants that most affect our day-to-day lives. Only last year local authorities were ordered to investigate and identify measures to tackle toxic air pollution, precisely because of Client Earth's legal victory - in which EU rules were essential to forcing greater action from the government.
For as long as the folly of Brexit continues to dominate this country's affairs, we simply cannot devote the energy required to secure continental-wide agreements on the crisis in our natural world. But a scenario in which we leave the EU, and in which ideologues can ditch the environmental protections that are essential to our natural and public health, is far more concerning. The EU have urged the UK not to "waste time" in the coming months, and I have long argued that the only route to breaking the impasse is to give the public the final say. Should this argument be successful, I will be campaigning at full throttle to ensure Britain can remain in the EU and in the vanguard on green issues. Our future generations deserve nothing less.