Uncertain times for green business as Tories form ‘Government of certainty’ with climate-sceptic DUP
Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will form a Government with the support of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in a move that environmental groups are fearing could have damaging consequences for Britain's green economy.
May visited Buckingham Palace at 12.30pm today (9 June), seeking the Queen’s permission to remain in office after a hung parliament was confirmed earlier this morning. The Tories are currently eight seats short of an overall majority with just one constituency left to declare. As such, the Prime Minister has been forced to sign an informal agreement with the DUP on a vote-by-vote basis.
Speaking outside Number 10 following the shock result, May promised that her Government would “provide certainty”, and insisted that she would begin Brexit negotiations on 19 June, as originally planned. The Prime Minister claimed that the Conservatives and DUP have together “enjoyed a strong relationship over many years”.
“What the country needs now, more than ever, is certainty,” May said. “Having secured the largest number of votes and greatest number of seats in the general election, it is clear the Conservatives and Unionist Party has the legitimacy to provide that.”
May has rejected calls to resign from both senior Conservative and Labour representatives, who have branded her decision to call this snap General Election as a “gamble that backfired”.
The good and the bad
So, what does all of this mean when looked at through the lens of corporate sustainability? Many people working within the green business sphere will be pleased that the likelihood of a ‘soft Brexit’ has increased now that the DUP, having secured 10 seats, has given its support to the minority Tory Government – the Unionists are keen to ensure Northern Ireland’s border with the Irish Republic remains as “seamless and frictionless” as possible.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party’s gain of 30 seats has placed Jeremy Corbyn’s party in a much stronger position to hold the Conservatives to account over key energy and environment regulation and potentially prevent a ‘hard’ Brexit situation.
But that’s where the potential good news ends. It is feared that the DUP’s newfound influence on UK politics could in fact have a negative impact on green policy, with the party having previously appointed a climate change denier as Northern Ireland Environment Minister, and last year becoming embroiled in controversy around a failed Renewable Heating Incentive Scheme (RHI) which cost Northern Irish taxpayers more than £400m.
The DUP’s official manifesto for the Westminster election contains calls for “a secure and sustainable energy supply for Northern Ireland” and for energy companies “to place further downward pressure on household bills”. The party has also said it would like to see an integrated electricity market put in place across Ireland and the continued development of a North-South interconnector, but its 24-page manifesto contains no mention of the words ‘environment’ or ‘climate change’.
Green organisation Friends of the Earth (FoE) has therefore been quick to condemn the deal between the Tories and the DUP. “Under the DUP leadership, Northern Ireland has become a wild west for the environment,” FoE Northern Ireland director James Orr said in a statement this afternoon.
“Northern Ireland is the dirty corner of the UK with some of the biggest illegal waste sites and mines in Europe. The pro-fracking DUP is a climate pariah.
“When we need clear leadership they are muddled over Brexit. They want to have their cake and eat it. On the one hand they are active Brexiteers but on the other they are desperate to preserve the economic benefits of ties with Europe.
“Their manifesto had hardly a positive word on the environment and nothing at all on climate change. Theresa May must not allow the DUP to further weaken her already inadequate manifesto commitments to maintain environmental protections and preserve nature.”
This election has fallen at a time when Britain’s green policy is at a crucial tipping point, and sustainability professionals will be increasingly concerned that the results could cause a further delay to the release of some major proposed environmental legislation, such as the Clean Growth Plan and the 25-Year Environment Plan – both of which were promised last year, but both are still yet to be published.
A green policy survey carried out by edie last week showed that the green business community’s patience is wearing thin, with 82% of green business leaders claiming that the publication of the Clean Growth Plan was ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important, while 83% said the same of the 25-Year Plan.
Commenting on the General Election result, Renewable Energy Association (REA) chief executive Nina Skorupska said: “In uncertain times, one thing all the main parties agree on is meeting our carbon budgets, the need for jobs, and cheaper bills.
“The renewable and clean tech industry has been waiting for nearly a year for the release of the Clean Growth Plan and it’s now critical for us that we have a clear commitment and direction, no matter what shade of Government.”
Environmental Services Association (ESA) executive director Jacob Hayler added: “The outcome of the General Election is yet another result that no one saw coming. The danger for everyone is the additional uncertainty that it will bring just when we need the opposite.
While UK Green Building Council (UK-GBC) chief executive Julie Hirigoyen said: “Over the coming weeks and months, Parliament must not let power struggles and partisan wranglings obstruct the immediate need for leadership and action on urgent policy imperatives such as housing, clean air, energy prices and the delayed Emissions Reduction Plan. The election campaign has highlighted the importance of these issues to voters alongside Brexit policy.”
What will the #hungparliament mean for UK environment policy? Here’s a quick summary…
— edie.net (@edie) June 9, 2017
George Ogleby & Luke Nicholls