EU and the UK Environment: thoughts on Brexit

Thanks to and after a dear friend’s recommendation, I went to a talk organised by Friends of the Earth and Environmentalists for Europe: What has the EU done for the UK environment?

I have been thinking about Brexit but, but up until the talk, I had not done any personal research to properly understand the potential implications of the UK leaving the EU.  So while this talk was obviously biased by taking an environmental point of view, categorised with #GreenerIn, it still had very interesting discussions and contrasting points were covered.

Apple Juice Sky

Pre-Talk Apple Juice Sky

 

The panel included Stanley Johnson – Co-chair of Environmentalists for Europe and former Conservative MEP (+ dad of Boris), Caroline Flint – Labour Party MP,  Craig Bennett – Friends of the Earth CEO, who chaired, Caroline Lucas – Green Party MP, Tony Juniper – Campaigner and leading British Environmentalist and Laura Sandys – Chair of European Movement UK.

They all were very good speakers, vastly knowledgeable with regards to their arguments and topics. The whole focus was on them, no projections or presentations.
If only all talks and classes were that engaging!

 

IMG_5862

The panel, as mentioned above, from L – R. (apologies for low quality photo)

 

Some of the points addressed were:

  • What has the EU done for the UK environment?
  • What are the environmental arguments for staying in the EU?
  • How does the EU need to change to become fairer and more accountable to better protect people and the environment?

 

Craig Bennett started off by saying that after conducting independent research on whether the EU membership has, in fact, been something overall positive or negative for the UK, the results showed that it’s been positive.

After the first year doing my ESD (Environment and Sustainable Development) course I have had a few paradigm shifts and renewed mindsets, which means that I now question more or less anything, no matter how much I may agree with someone in principle (even FoE’s CEO).
It makes sense to keep an objective look, and think independently.
Nevertheless, the discussion evolved and I was able to hear different arguments and confirm my original thoughts.

I was pleasantly surprised with Stanley Johnson‘s  fresh way of saying what he thought without too many (unnecessary) filters, such as stating something simple yet important: some people don’t want regulation [that would be in place with the EU], as in – some people have making a profit as an absolute priority regardless of everything else – and added that as part of the EU there is a coherent voice on environmental issues (which is far from some people’s concerns).

Caroline Flint was a captivating speaker, I thought it was really easy to listen to her and absorb information, it was as if she was telling a really good story (and she did, too).
She mentioned that being internationally recognised [within the EU] helps the UK’s environment, and she gave the example of the cleaning of UK beaches that took place thanks to EU standards, adding that the UK is stronger as a member of the EU.
Raising the point about Brexiteers’ views, she warned not to let the “patriotic” argument divide us.
Rather, by talking to people about the place where they live, and how they love it, it can be shown that regulations on keeping them clean and safe are actually implemented by the EU. Together we have a common endeavour to protect the environment, we are stronger together than alone.

To this I’d like to add that while being patriotic, supporting one’s country, isn’t necessarily negative in itself, what we do need to be wary of is nationalism, where love of one’s country is met by feelings of superiority over other countries (and which sometimes is also reinforced by scapegoating the other countries to further reinforce feelings of [insecure] superiority).

 

Tony Juniper, who is also an adviser to big companies and the President of the Wildlife Trust, talked about there being an ideological struggle, and how one of the critiques of the EU is red tape.
Moving onto the topic of investment, he raised the issue which comes with a lack of a long-term regulatory framework: if investing in something goes ahead but the regulation changes after a few years, the result may be that there is no investment after all.

I can think of a lecture in particular, about tools for assessing environmental impacts, during which one of the points discussed to bear in mind is was that, from the start of a plan up to its implementation, there could be a gap of years; and so many circumstances can change in between the creation of a policy and its enactment.

Tony Juniper stated that a healthy economy and healthy people have a healthy environment at the heart. I agree as with “environment”, in this context, I consider a space we all share.

 

Caroline Lucas cited a common argument held by Brexiteers, that “the EU does things to us”.
However, she pointed out that we, the UK, have a say on the decisions that are made.
Though being in the EU doesn’t mean everything is perfect, her articulated words resulted in nothing being unnecessarily sugar-coated, the take-home message being: overall, by staying in there are better chances of reaching better outcomes.

Caroline Lucas also cited some examples, such as the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and the need for cross-border cooperation, mentioned that great achievements have already been made within the context of protecting wildlife and the EU can be considered as a leader of environmental and social justice and a setting for a circular economy model.
(More can be found on  the UK Parliament page.)

 

I was impressed by Laura Sandys‘ words, which clearly highlighted key points such as the need to make a case for the environment and the EU, to work together, clearly stated that the biggest risk to this globe is climate change, and finally: that we need to make sure we are registered and that we vote [to stay in].
In response to someone’s question, she commented that if we were to leave the EU we would go from being the “victims” that we are now to being “conquerors”.

I feel this is a good point as, while I disagree, I can see that Brexiteers want to play on the heartstrings of those who bear nationalistic feelings with waves of thought that evoke infusions of neocolonialism.  [please see any article which states “Let’s make Britain Great again”] 😐

In both connection and contrast to that, Tony Juniper mentioned Winston Churchill as being the first to think of the bringing of countries together as a way to go, yet he was one of the most “British” people.

In addition, Lucas pointed out Brexit would mean that it’s likely that we’d have 10 years of instability and the future of the UK would not be determined until negotiations are settled.

On another note, I am no so impressed with how Laura Sandys voted on some environmental issues, without even delving into other spheres, but she is a conservative MP, after all.

 

 

After each speaker’s introductory points, the public were able to ask questions. Someone mentioned that there are, arguably, benefits for the environment on exiting the EU, such as keeping more trade and travel within the UK, thus potentially reducing the emissions caused by travelling abroad (made easier by being part of the EU) which contribute to climate change, for example.

Caroline Flint’s reaction to that was to reiterate that “we are undoubtedly better in when considering climate change”, Caroline Lucas added that with us staying in the EU, there is more transparency in tax havens and that it is by working together at the EU level that there is the best chance to regulate. Bringing up COP21, she reminded us that small island states said that the EU played a very important role in pulling countries towards more progressive changes and commitments.

 

More Qs:

Processed food: the EU blocked and banned the use of many chemicals/unhealthy substances – what could happen?
There are many articles which highlight and list the substances and chemicals that are banned in the EU and allowed in the US, absolute crap that I hope no one who truly knew about them would ever wish to ingest them: banned in Europe, safe in the US. What would happen if we were no longer part of the EU?

Farming: Johnson said that within the context of farming, we may lose the push to get better treatment of farm animals. Being part of the EU for farming is as vital as it is for the environment. At EU level, we have a chance to take on regulations on neonicotinoids, for example.

 

Additional points I noted:

Lucas: we also need to think of the stability of other EU countries, were we to leave. UK farmers would not be competitive and we may not have them in 10-20 years.
This is an opportunity to get things right with the EU. We need to try to reconnect people to institutions to believe we do have a say. There is a lot at stake and we are united.

Juniper: he said he is frightened to see how a small group of people have hijacked the majority of the media, frightened of how a small group of people have seized the agenda which could destroy the EU.

Also:

  • a lady from the audience said she remembers how Europe was conflict-ridden during and after the War, adding this could happen again if we were to exit…
  • staying in means being able to push for crucial things such as dismantling the Eurozone (Johnson)
  • There is no excuse not to vote

 

The E4E leaflet’s main points were about…

E4E Leaflet

E4E Leaflet

 

From a personal point of view, I remember my first thought about this referendum being “Why is there even a referendum for this?”

I have read a number of articles from different sources which expose studies’ results which show the UK economy would suffer great losses.

Subsequent, partially better-informed thoughts then delved into the frequently-mentioned opinions on “borders”. That’s the obvious next hot topic, unfortunately *ROLLS EYES*.
From a universal point of view, planet Earth is wonderful and yet but a little planet. The fact that we are getting our knickers in a twist regarding leaving a Union that was created to foster cooperation among countries just makes me feel like humans as a species really are pretty pathetic.
Borders may be clearly marked on a map, but we are the only ones who care about them because of our selfishness, greed and fears.

When it comes to Brexit I wonder how, in this era of globalisation, people imagine Brexit could still be something we’d want to support and truly benefit from.
London is a particularly multicultural city, but I think (and hope) that most UK citizens have friends who come from other EU countries (and non-EU countries), and perhaps who have partners who are from the UK or, in any case, are people who are living in the UK happily and contributing to society  with their knowledge and skills.
What would happen to them?
From an education perspective, EU nationals would have to pay the same fees as non-EU students (usually about double the already super-high fees). Why?
If the UK were to restrict access to EU inhabitants, it may mean that UK citizens would need to apply for visas to visit countries such as Spain, where so many UK citizens have relocated, sometimes not even speaking Spanish. Do they realise this?
So many laws that affect our daily lives and which we take for granted could change and affect us negatively, I’m afraid.
Rather than plunge into the divided unknown, couldn’t we rather focus on improving the EU’s priorities?
Especially on improving the environment we all share and which should have priority on economic greed? And establish greater focus on democracy within EU, for example by ensuring that “representatives with corporate interests do not form a majority on advisory groups to the EU commission” as proposed on FoE’s paper on the EU membership? (I know this is not what Brexiteers strive for, or are probably thinking about but, you know, wishful thinking…).

If you are in the UK, remember to register to vote and do vote. I hope this will turn out to be just a form of exercise into thinking of the potential effects of Brexit without having to go through whatever would happen.

 

 

*Since publishing this post, some comments from a dissenting point of view on Brexit, while still maintaining environmental standpoint, have induced me to supplement my research. Some of the points in support of leaving the EU is that is has “generated a corporatist superstate” and no democratic accountability for key issues. I have added some links below if you’d like to explore these further.

 

A few articles on the subject:

Brexit – what would happen if Britain left the EU? Written in May 2015.

Why is the Brexit camp so obsessed with immigration? Because that’s all they have

FoE: EU referendum and the environment

Why the Government believes we should remain

FT – EU referendum

Telegraph – Brexit

The Brexit Slideshow

The Green Case for Voting Leave

BBC – The UK’s EU referendum: All you need to know

Register to vote

 

What do you think about Brexit and the referendum? How does the EU membership affect you?

How do you think the media is handling the whole conversation?

 

 

This post is made up of my opinions and notes taken from the talk. If there are any inaccuracies, they were made by mistake because I am but a humble human. Please let me know and I can edit where applicable.

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12 thoughts on “EU and the UK Environment: thoughts on Brexit

    • It seems like it’s a complicated matter and the Green Party, and other parties, have taken a side whether they like it or not, it’s often a case of choosing what’s “not as bad as” the alternative option…

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      • Thanks for approving my comment and replying to it. The problem with a ‘Remain’ vote is that that Junker and the rest of the Eurocrats will use it as a pretext to push full steam ahead with TTIP. With regard to the CAP, until recently Green Party policy was to advocate ‘Brexit’ (before the term had been invented), if it weren’t abolished. The ‘Greens’ throughout the EU have totally failed to make any impact on it. I’m afraid that the only way to abolish the CAP and to stop TTIP is by dismantling the EU and restoring democracy to the nation states. Brexit is the first step.

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      • Thank you for commenting! – I am hoping that leaks on TTIP will progressively increase the public’s thirst to know exactly what the deal includes, same with TPP. So I’m hoping they can be stopped while we are part of the EU. With regards to the Green Party losing credibility, I think it also depends on the people who would be prone to lose it. I feel hopeful in grassroots movements and realistically compromising (by staying in) while actively trying to change free trade policies, and other policies, from within the system.

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      • The problem with ‘Remaining’ is that the EU has now gone way beyond the point where it can be reformed. We are heading inexorably for a corporate-run centralised European superstate, where any *veneer* of democracy is just that. That the ‘Greens’ have totally failed to reform the Common Agricultural Policy, let alone get it scrapped, from within indicates exactly how ‘successful’ trying to scrap TTIP will be. Oh, I was once a member of the Green Party, hence my knowledge its former policy on the CAP. But there is a broader issue, Green politics in its true form is democracy from the bottom up, not numerous ‘directives’ being issued by unelected Commissioners, whom we have no power to remove.

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      • Would you still say the EU could not be reformed if most countries’ governments were left-wing?
        And if we are truly heading towards a European superstate, how would leaving the EU work economically, for EU residents in the UK and environment laws implemented through the EU? I have the impression leaving is heading to the unknown and the feeling I get is that it can’t be better, as I’m finding it hard to imagine the benefits, and if there were net benefits, how long would it take for us to enjoy them? In the long run it may turn out to be better, but how long would that be and what would happen in between during the transition?

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      • Yes I would say that, because this isn’t a ‘left/right’ issue. The Green Party used to claim that it was ‘neither left nor right, but Green’. It has become ‘left-wing’ largely because of infiltration by the SWP etc hard left. EU residents in the UK and vice versa would have the same status as either would outside the EU, ie a points system based on age, skills, qualifications, experience, proficiency in the native/majority language and whether they can be economically self-supporting if they do not have an offer of employment or they are retired. The transition to leave the EU would involve assessment for such residents and EU legislation being debated in Parliament, not merely ignored or ‘rubber stamped’.

        This political union that we are in has developed by stealth without consent and every referendum (France, Netherlands, Ireland) on stalling the process has been ignored by the EU. There are no benefits to the EU, but plenty of drawbacks and it has to be said that unrestricted immigration to a country which already has an unsustainably high population density is one of them. We cannot even improve our infrastructure to cope with the extra people, because we continue to subsidise the poorer and less crowded parts of Europe (and beyond) from where the immigrants come. As the European Union continues to expand (into a Eurasian Union) it will fall apart because there is no common language, culture or history to bind it together. But I shan’t labour the point any further, I’ve already put it here, on which you are welcome to comment:

        https://astuteangle.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/the-brexit-sideshow/

        The Green Party used to support the principle of national sovereignty (the Scottish Green Party supporting genuine independence, ie Scotland being ruled neither from London nor Brussels). What has gone wrong? Why has the Green Party betrayed its principals?

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  2. There are a couple of points I’d like to know your opinion on: I have read a few articles where staying in would involve a reformed EU, especially in terms of more transparency and democracy, as voiced by the Green Party and proposing several areas of improvement such as the 8 points listed here:http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/blog/sowhat-would-reformed-eu-actually-look – it seems if these reforms were to take place effectively it would at least partly “solve” the points made by Green to Leave; also, is it fair to say there is unrestricted immigration if the UK is not part of the Schengen Agreement? And what about research finding that immigration provided positive fiscal contributions, especially from people from the EU? (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/1114/051114-economic-impact-EU-immigration/ and other sources)

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