In parliament >> Setting the UK 'free' from Europe

12th August 2013

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Chris Davies, Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson in the European parliament, says leaving the EU won't free the UK from regulation

When asked what effect leaving the EU would have on the environment in the UK, my mind turns immediately to the host of EU laws that have raised environmental standards. Legislation that has reduced pollution, enhanced air and water quality or promoted the safer use of chemicals is one example. Not to mention the steps taken to help the UK meet its international obligations to curb CO2 emissions or eliminate ozone-depleting substances.

Most people appreciate that pollution pays no respect to national boundaries and understand the need for multilateral action. True, the UK would have acted in any case on many environment issues, but probably more slowly and certainly with less effect. It’s harder to resist the call for money to be spent on environmental improvements when there is a legally enforceable EU agreement that applies also to our economic competitors in neighbouring countries. Yet, if the UK were to pull out of the EU, the environmental impact would be minimal. That’s not because the EU makes no difference, but because we would continue to sign up to virtually every environmental law that came out of Brussels.

“Independent” Norway, for example, has added 250 EU environmental laws to its statute book – everything, in fact, except laws on nature protection. That’s the price it must pay for belonging to the European economic area and the EU single market. Eurosceptics usually insist that the UK remains in the EU single market even if it withdraws from the decision-making structure. Like Norway we could then expect to be consulted on drafts of new laws, but our representatives would have no place at the tables where the final decisions are made.

According to Eurosceptics, like Norway, we could chart our own future. Only we couldn’t. Someone must explain the logic of leaving the EU to me. I just don’t get it.


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