Brexit would be damaging for UK environment, experts warn

Leaving the EU could threaten a range of Britain's environmental policies from energy efficiency to natural capital, a group of high-level environment experts have told Environment Secretary Liz Truss.

The group, including the former heads of the Environment Agency, the National Trust and the Green Alliance, authored an open letter to Truss which was published Wednesday (scroll down for letter).

“Britain’s membership of the European Union has had a hugely positive effect on the quality of Britain’s beaches, our water and rivers, our air and for many of our rarest birds, plants and animals and their habitats,” said the letter.

“Being part of the Union has enabled us to co-ordinate action and agree policies that have improved our quality of life, including the air we breathe, the seas we fish in, and have protected the wildlife which crosses national boundaries.

“Higher European manufacturing standards for cars, lights and household appliances have lowered consumer energy costs, and stimulated business innovation.”

The group said that they were uncertain which EU environment policies would continue to apply to Britain after a Brexit, but that it could leave the country having to comply with policies it had no say in setting.

“We would no longer be able to shape EU policy and our influence on the environmental performance of other member states would decline very sharply once we were no longer at the negotiating table,” the letter continued.

“We therefore conclude that Brexit would be damaging for Britain’s environment. There are many issues which will decide voting intentions at the forthcoming referendum, but on this issue which is so central to the British quality of life, the case is clear: We will better able to protect the quality of Britain’s environment if we stay in Europe.”

Next steps

David Cameron is hoping to agree a deal on his renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership at next month’s European Council summit. Following the negotiations he is expected to call a referendum, with June 23 seen as a potential date.

Professor Paul Ekins, a signatory of the letter and professor of resources and environmental policy at UCL, said: “Britons have benefited greatly from EU environmental policy and Britain inside the EU has also been able to shape it.

“We would lose this ability if we were to leave the EU, while it is very likely that we would still have to follow EU environmental laws if we wished to retain access to the EU’s single market. This would effectively reduce UK sovereignty rather than increasing it. Paradoxically, perhaps, membership of the EU is an essential condition for the UK to exercise some sovereign influence over the European forces that affect it.”
Responding to the letter, Friends of the Earth also called for Britain to remain in the EU, asserting that collective action is the best way to tackle the planet’s environmental issues.

Friends of the Earth Europe campaigner at Samuel Lowe said: “It is not possible to combat the challenges ahead, such as climate change, air pollution and destruction of the natural world as the UK alone. At a time where collective action, alongside our regional and international partners, is needed more than ever, now is not the time to be pulling apart.” 

Full letter and list of signatories

Brad Allen

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