Environmental consensus on Remain option

The Wildlife Trusts were, as I recall, the first wildlife NGO to support the option of the UK remaining in the EU and that was back in March.  And their statement was admirably clear:

The Wildlife Trusts believe that our wildlife and habitats will be better off if they continue to benefit from EU environmental legislation and a cross-Europe framework for nature conservation. We have formed this view because of the positive impact they currently bring to the UK’s wildlife and the uncertainty of the alternatives. We also believe that wildlife across Europe benefits from having laws which the UK’s strong nature conservation community has been involved in designing. We know where wildlife stands with the UK as a member of the EU, but there is no certainty about its future under a Brexit.’

It’s well worth reading the supporting documentation that lies behind that view.

Today, two months later and nicely timed to influence the last few weeks of the debate, WWF and the RSPB choose the same option in a joint article in the Daily Telegraph Leaving the EU would put our environment at risk. 

In the current edition of Birdwatch both the editor, Dominic Mitchell, and myself, in my column The Political Birder, opt for Remain too.

Environmentalists, almost to a man and a woman, opt for the Remain option. This is partly because of the undoubted good that the EU has done for the environment over the years. Although quite honestly this is not the best reason for choosing the Remain option if you are a UK environmentalist because, just as with investment funds and racehorses, past success is no guarantee of future success.  It is difficult to be sure that the future EU environmental record will be anything like as good as its past record – and honestly, I believe the best days of EU environmental legislation are a long way in the past.

In fact there is a perverse and altruistic view of the environment that would lead one to vote for Brexit – and that is that Brexit would remove the awful influence of the UK government from EU policy and the rest of Europe could make faster and greater environmental progress without us! I’ve been struck having travelled a lot more often than usual this spring, how badly the UK government is thought of by my fellow conservationists in Europe and further afield. I agree with them! It is difficult to imagine Rory Stewart, Liz Truss, George Osborne or David Cameron being seen as environmental leaders abroad when we see their dire and abject performance at home.

A better, and largely unspoken reason why environmentalists, real ones, want to Remain is that they look at the policies and politics and personalities of the pro-Brexit politicians and a chill goes through them.  All that talk about red-tape and bureaucracy from the Brexiteers is really a call for the stripping away of environmental and social protection by a bunch of radical free-marketeers.  And because there is no market in environmental goods – the song of a skylark, the carbon in a peat bog, the smell of wild flowers – the market ignores them. And that’s why we have stuffed our environment over the last couple of hundred years – partly through ignorance of what we were doing, partly because of a right-minded desire to improve fairness in society but very largely because we have fallen in love with markets that count money and don’t count much else.

Imagine a post-Brexit England (because Scotland will soon be off – and I wouldn’t blame them) governed by Boris Island Johnson, with George ‘Endless…environmental goals‘ Osborne (for he will surely survive any result), Nigel ‘Anti Climate Change Act‘ Farage,  Michael Gove and Ian Duncan-Smith!  What chance the environment under such a bunch?  And that is what strikes fear into we environmentalists. It is partly because the EU is good for the environment, but largely because the Brexiteers look like the multiple horsemen of the Environmental Apocalypse that the environmental movement favours Remain (but they can’t say that – but I can).


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14 Replies to “Environmental consensus on Remain option”

  1. Iain Duncan Smith has, at best, been sickeningly careless with human life and his policies have led to more deaths than any sane individual would tolerate, why would anyone think he'd treat the environment safely when he can't even bring himself to preserve human life? I personally firmly believe that he ought to be in the Hague for a trial on crimes against humanity. One can only imagine the hell that his environment policy would result in.

  2. A thoughtful and balanced view from the excellent Andy Clements (Director of the BTO) in today's British Birds.

  3. A year ago I was quite undecided, mainly because of the impact of such high net immigration levels on the UK's environment (in terms of demand for new houses, roads, water etc). But I'm now firmly in the remain camp (and this blog helped me make to my mind up - thanks to Mark and other contributors).

    I'm Remain for exactly the reasons Mark has set out - yes the EU environmental laws have been good for the UK, but more that the Leave arguments have left me in no doubt about how awful the reckoning will be if those people get their way.

    As a patriot (and a human being) I'm just ashamed that the official "debate", from both sides, has been so bigoted, dishonest, intolerant, rich white old male, and generally insulting to anyone with as much as half a brain. A curse on both their houses, regardless of the outcome.

  4. I agree that the EU probably has its best days behind it with respect to the enactment of tough wildlife protection legislation and I also agree that concern about the post Brexit havoc on the environment that would be wrought by a Johnson-Osborne-Gove-Farage led government is one of the strongest reasons to vote for remaining. I would add though that we do already have the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive and the possibility to take a complaint to Europe when our government fails to comply with these. These things may be imperfect but if we lost them our wildlife would suddenly be a whole lot more vulnerable.

  5. I just wonder how people can see the EU as a god for wildlife while allowing Mediterranean countries to blast all those birds out of the sky if they even manage to avoid the nets and sticky substances used to catch them.
    Those fighting for UK Hen Harriers I would have thought might have a conscience about that.
    I have not made my mind up but would prefer it if Angela Merkel openly run the show instead of the silly way someone has the job but Angela always the one to make all the decisions.

    1. Dennis - all member states break some EU laws. that might be the case for the UK with burning of grouse moors and that's why the EU has taken up the RSPB complaint about it.

      1. Well we might as well say some people in each EU state break some laws,some put pole traps,shoot protected birds of prey and also poison them.
        In my book all these as well as those you speak of are serious and should be dealt with seriously but none will be while the attitude is that it is inevitable that laws will be broken.
        My bet is that those representing Grouse Moor Owners say some law breaking in EU states will always happen.

  6. It's a survival issue, and not just for the birds. The effects of climate change are gathering pace, and as mark points out can only be exacerbated by the survival of the sort of neo-liberal free market thinking that most of the Brexiters support. Of course, as most people are gradually realising there is very little 'free market' about the Conservative/neo-liberal agenda: it is heavily weighted to ensuring the rich get richer and much of what we hear about Europe & the Environment - how they are holding us back is simple diversion tactics to take the focus off the real drivers of austerity - reducing Government, protection of anyone other than the rich and of the environment. The best days of European environmental protection may only be over because that thinking is prevailing in too many country's politics, and it is a good reason to stay in to lend our weight to turning the tide before we really do all end up in a mess together.

    1. Hi Rod (long time...), most of the Remainers support some "sort of neo-liberal free market thinking". The EU is now constructed to enable the neo-liberal free market thing. I can understand the desire scientists have to maintain a decision making authority that can take their advice directly and act on it, beyond the Daily Mail soaked "opinions" of lazy voters. Unfortunately, other lobbyists can also use that feature - agrochemicals, biotech, finance, pharma, etc. The points made against the EU by thoughtful people who feel (as opposed to "think", people's choice on this seems deeper set than the reach of intellectual effort alone) that we should stay in and support reform are the same points I would use - as might other old environmentalists - to claim it is time to leave. How else will a reform process be invoked? The key Remain arguments from environmentalists and some on the Left seem to depend on the premise that the City-backing tories will rule for the foreseeable future. We have them pinned back in Scotland, why is that proving too difficult in England? Maybe your tories are smarter than ours - but i frequently read posts despairing about how stupid they are, it's odd.

      Having enjoyed your post on food security last year I thought I'd point my questions at you (i.e. EU reform and getting rid of the green-crap tories - I have met proper greenish tories but they are not like Cameron/Johnstone)

  7. It's a fair point, Brian, and I have to say I'm not that keen on what I've seen of TTIP, for example. It would be easy for me to riposte that the EU has held back yield enhancing drugs for dairy cattle & GM, but I think that misses the bigger point. which is that England leaving would simply boost the things we are concerned about - especially nationalistic right wing politics ( which surely is what the 'leave' case is mainly about ?) and whilst the argument in a Europe accustomed to peace focusses almost entirely on the economy and immigration, I'm more concerned that there could again be an inexorable drift towards the sort of war we thought we had got rid on in western Europe.

    On England's domestic politics, I'm afraid I share your amazement - and you have every right to be slightly smug from across the border ! I was shocked at the last general election by how in 5 years Labour had failed almost completely to develop any sort of coherent vision for the future, and I think that is where the hope lies in combatting the politics of greed & fear (which I feel motivate the leave campaign). I also feel that the conservation lobby has done little better - a 'business as usual' approach when it isn't business as usual, pretending that the hard-won relationships with Government still apply even when the Government initially made it clear it didn't care, and then went on to cast environmentalism as the next excuse (after Labour wrecked the economy) for its own failures. It doesn't matter that you know you are right when no one else is listening, you have to change and resting on past glories simply doesn't work.

    1. I wonder if the presence of the EU and its enormous potential for enforcing environmental care has allowed our indiginous environmetal lobby to relax too much since the mid-80s and leave it to the pros (e.g. WWF, RSPB and those of us working in varous government agencies). That EU potential has only been used a little, maybe mitigating the effects of its other policies a bit. Holding the Eurozone together currently displaces the social and environmental objectives from their to-do list - assuming those objectives were ever more than window dressing.

      There is a substantial tradition in both left wing and environmental politics (they are not the same thing, despite what the folk who have made their way to the centre of the Greens are saying at the moment) of opposition to the "Common Market" and its successors. I accept that the Leave arguments heard in the media sound right wing but have witnessed fire-breathing Communists describe the EU as a capitalist plot and Leave as the best chance of getting rid of the tories (for starters) - not my view but a view that is neither right wing nor nationalistic.

      I subscribe to the tradition that regards practical sustainability as an ability to meet basic needs from the landscape you belong to. Only then should attenton turn to a trade system for treats. This notion is anathema to marxists and capitalists alike and they have been shaping the concept of what is normal and desirable for nearly two centuries. Changing that is the daunting task waiting ahead. Like you say, we are not in a "business as usual" period.

      Should Leave win (I doubt it, there are too many similarities to the Indyref tactics scaring folk off change) it will be useful for some environmentalists to be visible amongst the victors to help obstruct UKIP/Bojo claims that they have vanquished the "green slime".

      The idea that the EU has prevented member countries from fighting is hard to dismiss and widely claimed but is equally hard to prove. I would note (as many have) that US and UK tank divisions and aircraft might also have had something to do with it. The US still has 56,000 or so troops statoned in Europe. Even more likely, war-weariness and reconstruction were also present, limiting any appetite for shenannigans between France and Germany, the implied but unsaid likely combatants.

  8. Whilst the environment might be better off if we choose to stay in the EU, I think you are only looking short term. As more and more people arrive in our country, and they will come, especially when Turkey join, they will need houses, schools, hospitals and jobs. The EU have already told us that we are not building enough houses and that is now. What is it going to be like in ten years? I will tell you, the countryside as we know it will be gone, buried under a mass of concrete and tarmac. No more environment to look after anyway. We are just too small an island to sustain the amount of people who want to live here.


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