Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Brexit And The Environment

Good grief. I go away for a week, and look what happens.

The U.K. Is facing a major constitutional crisis following its decision to leave the European Union. Immediate chaos aside, there's massive uncertainty as to what that exit could mean for us. Over the next couple of posts, I want to tease out some of the new challenges faced by charities, the environment and fashion in this confusing new landscape.

First things first: no-one knows what's going to happen. Most of what's been talked about up to now is conjecture or at best informed guesswork. However, for the most part the outlook seems to be taking on a particular tone. A pretty sombre one.

Environmentalists are particularly worried, and with good cause. Regulations designed to safeguard our wildlife and natural habitats are largely enforced through legislation from Europe: more than 70%, in fact. If these go in the dustbin post-Brexit, then any protection given to our environment could very quickly be re-written. The Tory government's enthusiasm for fracking, for example, could be reindulged with added enthusiasm under a new regime–one less concerned over pesky concerns over the breeding grounds of the natterjack toad. Or indeed, earthquakes and flammable drinking water.

Another concern is the current ban on the dangerous chemicals in weed-killers that are proven to have a dstabilising effect on the bee population. Legislation for that comes through Europe, and without it it would be much simpler for agri-giants like Monsanto to lobby for restrictions to be lifted in the UK. The potentially catastrophic effect that a crash in bee numbers could have on crop propagation is almost too horrific to contemplate.

Environmental lobbyists and activists are universally concerned about the chilling effect that a switch-off of EU legislation could have on our progress on green issues. Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said:

“Many of the laws that make our drinking and bathing water safe, our air cleaner, our fishing industry more sustainable and our climate safer now hang by a thread… There is a very real fear that Cameron's successor will come from the school that supports a bonfire of anti-pollution protections.”

Meanwhile, Friends Of The Earth CEO Craig Bennett urged forcefulness in making sure that important environmental issues are not sidelined in the coming months:

“The referendum may be over but many of the difficult debates are only just beginning. The environment must be at the heart of our negotiations with Europe and how we create a positive future for our country. We cannot let the UK return to the days of ‘the dirty man of Europe’. Protections for our birds and wildlife, our beaches and rivers, must not be sacrificed in the name of cutting away so-called EU ‘red tape’. “

“The environment was rarely mentioned during the referendum but it must now move up the political agenda. With urgent issues like climate change, air pollution and destruction of the natural world already impacting this generation, not just the next, we don’t have time for the environment to take a back seat through years of negotiations.”

Could there be an upside to all this? Many farmers and fishermen voted to leave citing excessive red tape, favouritism to other EU partners in UK waters and quotas that led to fish being dumped and crops left to rot. But those same farmers are beneficiaries to EU funding, and quotas offer protection to dwindling fish stocks. It should also be noted that the European Parliament Fisheries Committee, which is there to protect member's interests, had as one of its members one Nigel Farage–who attended one out 42 meetings. Perhaps if he'd done his job then UK fishermen might be in a better place.

Our View: these are worrying times, of course, not helped by the general air of uncertainty. Some commentators are urging us to see the bright side–a new dawn of freedom as Britain carves its own path in the world. That sounds great, but there's little evidence of that blue sky on the horizon quite yet.


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