On 7 December, MPs voted to support the government’s plan to start formal Brexit talks by the end of March next year. As the UK edges closer to leaving the European Union, the government now faces a critical choice on the future of our environment protections.
An estimated 80 per cent of the UK’s environmental legislation was developed with Europe, so the UK’s vote to leave the EU inevitably places a question mark over nearly all of our environmental protections. From policies that ensure our air and water are clean and protect our special wildlife, to those that keep us safe from exposure to toxic chemicals at work, a place will be needed for these protections in the UK’s future policy framework outside the EU.
We are, therefore, at a pivotal moment. If we get it wrong, we could see by far the biggest setback yet for the future well-being of our environment and all of us that benefit from it. But if we get it right, we can avoid that, improve on the current protections and begin to restore and even enhance our natural world.
Making sure we get it right
The public want the government to get it right. A recent YouGov poll has revealed that four in every five British adults think we should have the same or stronger environmental protection after we leave the EU.
That’s why we have come together with 12 of the UK’s other major environmental organisations, in a collaboration the UK has never seen before. The new coalition, Greener UK, which includes organisations with a combined membership of 7.9 million, will be watching the Great Repeal Bill very closely to make sure it doesn’t open up any gaps in current environmental protections and, as new legislation is formed, we will be looking for ways to build on them.
This year’s State of Nature report revealed the insidious and alarming loss of biodiversity in this country: 15 per cent of our native species are under threat of extinction, and 53 per cent are in decline. And 2016, for all its other surprises, has also been the year to break climate records and pass a tipping point for atmospheric carbon. So this is a window of opportunity we cannot miss.
We’re not alone in this belief: 145 MPs from across the political spectrum and across the UK have so far signed Greener UK’s Pledge for the Environment, committing to support the UK in becoming a world leader on the environment.
Outside of the Brexit debate, this government has shown some early signs of leadership in this area: ratifying the Paris climate agreement and making global commitments on marine protection. But although there have been some welcome warm words from Brexit minister Robin Walker about putting Britain “at the vanguard of tackling global environmental challenges”, the government is yet to say what leaving the EU will mean for this. On the other hand, Secretary of State David Davis has promised “firmly and unequivocally” that employment rights will not be eroded during Brexit. We urgently need an equivalent, explicit reassurance for the environment.
The need for strong government commitment
Now is the time for the prime minister to respond to what four in every five people and 145 MPs are saying and state her commitment to maintaining the UK’s environmental protections. The newly promised Brexit plan is the ideal opportunity to do this.
And, while we should continue to collaborate with our European neighbours where there’s a clear mutual interest and environmental benefit, we should also establish world class environmental governance here in the UK. Those looking back at the end of this century will judge our leaders now by how they chose to respond at this crucial turning point.
More MPs are signing the Pledge for the Environment every day.
If you are an MP, and are interested in signing, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org