Political consensus: EU membership crucial for UK’s voice on climate change

An exit from the European Union (EU) would seriously impact the UK's energy security and hamper future cleantec investment, members of four of the main political parties have unanimously agreed.

Liz Truss (Conservatives), Ed Davey (Liberal Democrats), Caroline Flint (Labour) and Caroline Lucas (Green Party) met at a debate last week to discuss how the next Government would tackle the environment.

The Conservatives say they will hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU by 2017 if they win the election in May this year. But all four MPs on the panel agreed that Britain would lose its voice on climate change in the event of a potential split from the Union.

Britain ignored

Current Energy Secretary Ed Davey said that, in the run up to Cop21 in Paris – billed as the most important negotiations on climate change ever – negotiating EU membership in Parliament would lose Britain its current position leading the discussions in Brussels on climate change.

“Do you think that’s going to impress the rest of our European colleagues? Do you think our voice will be heard in those circumstances? It a total disaster; a recipe for Britain’s voice on climate change to be completely neutered and ignored,” Davey said.

The Lib Dem MP stressed the changes the UK has been able to affect by being a member of the EU, and the various environmental benefits of remaining a Member State.

“Before we negotiated, only five EU Member States had a post-2020 legal commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By negotiating with Europe we were able to push whole standards up in Europe so we now have 28 member states with a 2030 legally binding target on them to reduce greenhouse gas emission. EU product standards have had the biggest impact on energy efficiency in this country.”

Energy security

Davey’s views were supported by Shadow Energy Secretary Flint, who said: “I cannot think of anything worse than having a situation after the election of two years of internal wrangling over us having an exit strategy from the EU.

“Our energy security is part of this as well. It’s part of us having a strong national voice, but as the European Union going as a block together having a strong voice in those international discussions as well, so I think it would be a recipe for disaster to waste precious time if the conservatives are re-elected to discuss coming out of Europe. Nobody disagrees with reform.”

Serious debate 

Lucas, who spoke exclusively with edie after the debate, agreed with the other panel members but added that, while the EU has had a positive role in bringing up standards in the UK, it has not had that same effect in all Member States, and could actually prevent tighter regulations.

“If you want to go further than some EU standards, if you want to have every bottle as a fully returnable bottle EU standards can actually stop you doing that because the single market kicks in.,” Lucas said. 

“I do think we absolutely want to stay in the EU, but the debate about reform has to be a very serious one because we have a lot of threats coming our way from the EU right now. I think we need to look at the way in which the EU conducts itself and have it with sustainability as its aim, rather than global competition.”

Earlier today (30 March), Labour leader Ed Miliband has spoken out about the UK’s EU membership, claiming that Cameron’s pledge to hold a referendum is “a clear and present danger” to jobs and business. Labour’s manifesto duelly includes a promise to “return Britain to a leadership role” in Europe. The Lib Dems will hold a poll if more powers are transferred to the EU.

Lucinda Dann

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