Environment missing from Brexit debate

7th April 2016


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IEMA

Green organisations are struggling to promote the environment as a key issue in the EU referendum debate, according to speakers at an event in Westminster held by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) and WWF.

The call to move environmental protection up the agenda was led by Caroline Lucas, Green party MP for Brighton Pavilion and board member of the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign. But the role of the EU as a champion for conservation and sustainability had been a relatively untold story so far, she said. ‘If we keep just banging on only about jobs and the economy, then a whole raft of issues that could be quite central to whether a lot of people bother to vote aren’t going to be on the agenda,’ she said.

Jake Sumner from SERA, Labour’s environment campaign, said green charities had an ‘amazing reach and ability’ to make the environmental protection argument, and urged a much clearer explanation from them on the benefits of staying in the EU.

But NGOs expressed nervousness on speaking out about the referendum after regulatory guidance from the Charities Commission stipulated that they should not campaign on the issue.

Sam Fanshawe, chief executive at the Marine Conservation Society, said: ‘We’d love to be outspoken and take direct action but we have to navigate the choppy waters of this guidance. We are going to have trustees who are very nervous about taking an outspoken view.’

But Lord Callanan, a Conservative peer and former MEP, said: ‘I have a certain suspicion that some of the arguments of some of the players in this debate are driven by the fact that they receive large grants from the European Commission.’

Stanley Johnson, another ex-MEP and co-chair of campaign group Environmentalists4Europe, said it was important not to belittle the opposition but to ensure that the environment message was communicated as well. ‘What we’re trying to do is get a positive message out.’ Environmentalists4Europe will be helping to spread awareness of the issue, he said.

Meanwhile, a report from the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) has analysed the impact of leaving the EU. It found that most EU environmental law would continue to apply to the UK as long as it remained inside the European Economic Area (EEA). Exceptions to this include the directives on birds, habitats and bathing water, and the common agricultural and common fisheries policies. If the UK leaves the EEA, future UK governments would be free to change environmental standards, the IEEP concluded.

It predicted, however, that the current government would be likely to opt for a less ambitious approach. The integration between UK, EU and international environment law is so close that separating them would be a considerable challenge, the institute said.

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