Paterson attacks EU environment policies

9th June 2016


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European green policies are inflexible and lead to environmental damage, former environment secretary Owen Paterson claimed in a speech attacking nature directives, the precautionary principle and campaign groups.

Speaking to UK2020, a think-tank established by Paterson, the Conservative MP for North Shropshire made a case for leaving the EU to regain control of environment policy from what he called ‘an inefficient and cumbersome supranational system of government’.

If the UK re-establishes control of its borders, it would be free to target policy specifically to the country’s environmental needs, Paterson said. Attempts to create a level-playing field across member states have resulted in damage to the environment, he claimed.

He gave the example of great crested newts, which he noted are protected by European law, despite the fact that they are ‘doing fine’ in the UK, and can be found ‘everywhere in England, as well as much of Wales and Scotland’.

Protection of great crested newts is not only preventing homes from being built, he alleged, but fences put in place to prevent their movement disturbs ground-nesting birds at nesting times. ‘We need a more flexible policy, and not one focused on targets set hundreds of miles away,’ he argued.

Paterson revealed that, during his time as environment secretary, he was ‘criticised at the very highest level of HM government for adhering to the habitats directive.’ When he suggested amendments to the habitats directive, the then environment commissioner Janez Potočnik refused to discuss them, saying that doing so would open a ‘Pandora’s box’, he said.

‘A huge advantage of leaving the EU is that, should we find that our legislation interpreting international conventions did not work well in practice, we could amend or repeal – or if necessary strengthen it – in response to changes in our own species and habitats,’ he said.

Paterson also criticised the ‘precautionary principle’, which is enshrined in EU law and states that a policy or action should not be pursued if it could cause harm to the public or environment and where no scientific consensus exists.

Paterson said the principle had led to the European Commission banning neonicotinoids at the end of 2013, which he claimed had forced farmers to rely on less effective pesticides. These include pyrethroids, which Paterson alleged damage the aquatic environment and are worse for bees than neonicotinoids.

He advocated replacing the precautionary principle with the ‘innovation principle’ if the UK votes to leave the EU. This would encourage use of latest innovations, which are currently not pursued by companies because they do not want to risk spending money developing a product only for it to be banned without scientific reason, he said.

Paterson also accused the EU of making ‘a power grab’ of international treaties and trying to fit them into a one-size fits all system across the continent.

‘A vote for the EU is a vote for the continuation of the remote, insensitive bureaucracy that insists on deciding matters at continental level, ignoring local environmental conditions and imposing clumsy regulation on matters that should be decided at the level of the nation state or below,’ he said.

Sam Lowe, Friends of the Earth campaigner, said that working with European neighbours on issues such as air pollution, climate change and nature conservation was far more effective than working alone, and that to suggest otherwise is ‘pure fantasy’.

He also responded to Paterson’s claim that campaign groups, including Friends of the Earth, WWF and the RSPB, favour continued UK membership of the EU because they receive large amounts of funding from the bloc.

‘Owen Paterson seems to live in a world where facts play second fiddle to his peculiar disgust at those of us working to protect our shared environment,’ Lowe said. ‘While Patterson is busy peddling conspiracy theories about EU funding, the simple reason so many green groups are supporting remain is because all the evidence and research suggests we are stronger, better, cleaner and greener in.’

Stanley Johnson, former Conservative MEP, co-chair of Environmentalist for Europe and father of Boris: ‘Owen Paterson is wrong about the environment and the EU. The protections he attacks are ones I helped to put in place as an MEP and mean our birds and wildlife are much better protected than they were before.’

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