Caroline Lucas: Brexit is a frightening prospect for Britain’s environment

EXCLUSIVE: Energy policies would be rolled back, demand for environmental experts would drop and Britain's voice on international climate change negotiations would be lost if the nation votes to leave the EU in the upcoming referendum, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has said.

Speaking to edie after a debate on the environmental impact of staying in or leaving the European Union, Lucas – who sits firmly within the ‘in’ camp – said the overlap between people who have said they will vote for ‘Brexit’ and those who don’t believe in man-made climate change is “worryingly large”. (Scroll down for video).

“The security of Britain’s environmental policies is at stake in this referendum,” Lucas said. “We know that the people advocating an ‘out’ vote want to roll back environmental regulation. That means undoing decades of painstakingly-compiled legislation – whether it’s the Habitats Directive, the Birds Directive or environmental and energy directives.

“Quite honestly, I think that’s a really frightening prospect.”

When asked about the potential impacts of the referendum on sustainability and environmental professionals, Lucas said both jobs and standards are in jeopardy of diminishing, should the likes of London Mayor Boris Johnson and Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom have their way on 23 June and win a majority ‘out’ vote.

“As far as businesses are concerned, they won’t then have a level playing field when they’re trading within the rest of the EU and further afield,” Lucas added. “The risk then is that you have a spiralling downwards of the standards that have been worked on for so many years.

“The demand for environmental specialists will also go down because the whole profile of environmental issues will diminish. I hope this is not interpreted as fearmongering – sadly, it’s actually a very realistic assessment of what will happen if we leave the EU. I think a safe environment is absolutely at stake in this referendum.”

Lucas was among the author MPs of last week’s in-depth report from the Environmental Audit Committee which investigated the merits and drawbacks of determining environmental policy at an EU level for the UK – an investigation that concluded EU membership provides a platform to pursue climate objectives on a global stage, while simultaneously fast-tracking environmental action domestically.

Fittingly, the Brighton Pavilion MP was speaking to edie less than 24 hours before the UK’s Under Secretary of State for Energy Lord Nick Bourne attended the UN headquarters in New York to put pen to paper and sign the Paris Agreement on climate change. The strength of the European Union as a collective force climate action has played a key factor in the ambitious outcome of that Agreement, Lucas said.

“The EU is a platform for us to be able to promote policies that we agree with,” she added. “Because there is such a large number of people in this country who care about climate change, the UK Government knew that they had to try to deliver an ambitious message in Paris.

“The amplification of that message when it comes from 28 countries rather than just one is huge. Small island developing states (SIDS) have said that the outcome of the Paris Agreement was so much better than they thought it might be, and they put it down to the role of the EU, because we had 28 Member States completely committed to an ambitious outcome, along with the leverage of 500 million consumers.

“It’s a really virtuous circle – the real worries are that, if the UK comes out of the EU, then we lose that international platform for projecting what we want to see happening to tackle climate change as well.”


At last week’s debate, hosted by environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth (FoE), Lucas was joined by Labour’s Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint; writer and environmentalist Tony Juniper; FoE chief executive Craig Bennett; and Boris Johnson’s dad Stanley – who all unanimously agreed that remaining IN the EU is imperative for the UK’s low-carbon future.

As co-chair of newfound ‘in’ campaign organisation Environmentalists for Europe, former Tory MP Stanley Johnson claimed that Brexit would be a “disaster” for Britain. “There are plenty of things about Europe that we need to get right – beyond the environment – but there’s no way we’re going to get anything right if we don’t stay in the EU,” he said.

Luke Nicholls

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie