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Brexit – a choice between security and opportunity for our environmental future

7th March 2016

Cherry Whittaker

As the ‘Stay’ and ‘Leave’ campaigns gear up for the possibility of Brexit, Comply Direct will be providing insight into the arguments for and against maintaining our relationship with the European Union from an environmental perspective, considering both the past and present to consider what our environmental future could look like for both ‘In’ and ‘Out’ scenarios.

In 1975, the UK voted overwhelmingly to remain in what was at the time known as the European Economic Community (EEC). In fact, the North Yorkshire region where Comply Direct is based was the most supportive voting region in the UK with 76% of the voters opting to remain in the common market. On 23rd June 2016, the UK will go to vote on remaining in what has become a comprehensive economic, environmental and social political system of 28 European Countries, which has a major influence on how we function as a nation.

So, is our environment in the UK better off in or out of the EU? To introduce our discussion series, this post will describe a timeline of some key events and legislation relating to the environment driven by both the EU and the UK independently, as well as statements from campaigners from both sides on their views in relation to the environment.

UK driven

  • Town and Country Planning Act 1947 – Required landowners to receive planning permission for most developments. While the aims of the legislation were not environmental, planning limits the unrestricted development of sensitive sites, or the development of sites not suited to activities that could have an environmental impact
  • London Smog of 1952 – provided the driving force for the Clean Air Act 1956
  • UK Climate Change Act and forming of the Committee on Climate Change – The world’s first legally binding framework for a country to curb its carbon emissions. By 2050 the UK must reduce its emissions by 80% on a 1990 baseline.

EU driven

  • Environmental Action Plan 1973 – The driver of the plan was to harmonise environmental standards that could bias free trade, for example setting limits of emissions from leaded fuels. While not directly environmental the limiting of emissions was an initial step into the future policies driven by the EU on the environment.
  • Water and Waste Framework Directives (1990s &2000s) – Both directives were developed to significantly limit environmental degradation as a result of waste and effluent production, and were aimed at improving air and water quality for environmental, economic and societal benefit.
  • EU Emissions Trading Scheme – The world’s first Carbon emissions trading scheme, which sets carbon limits for major polluters across the EU to incentivise organisations to reduce their emissions. The scheme works by requiring carbon credits to be purchased by organisations who exceed their allowance, and companies that emit less than their allowance gain credits to sell to organisations within the scheme.

A major talking point from the referendum has been the split amongst MPs within the major political parties. Although the campaigns are in their early stages, given influence that the EU has had on environmental policy in the UK, discussions are expected to heat up in this area in the coming months.

‘In’ opinion:

“We are probably the largest influencer in terms of setting out the plan and delivering on the energy market. So we can’t help shape it – shape it in the best way for the UK consumer and UK businesses. That would be a loss because you would be going into an area of uncertainty.” Amber Rudd – Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

‘Out’ opinion:

“The truth of the matter is if we left the EU there would be an £18bn a year Brexit dividend, so could we find the money to spend £2bn a year on farming and the environment? Of course we could,” he said. “Would we? Without a shadow of a doubt.” George Eustice – Minister of State, DEFRA

Security or opportunity?

Both arguments introduce valid points on both for and against ‘Brexit’. Removing UK from payments opens up the possibility to better spend the money we receive on benefiting the UK. However, how can the Government guarantee that improvements will in fact be felt by those directly affected by EU driven environmental subsidies if we were to leave and provide subsidies ourselves?

Similarly, the above pro EU argument from Amber Rudd notes that the UK is the greatest influencer in driving EU energy market policy. If our influence is so significant, surely we must consider whether the UK could shape our energy market independently of the European Union?

It appears that two key themes exist that will dictate this discussion from now till June. The ‘In’ standpoint focuses on the security and influence of remaining in a system that has strongly influences environmental aspects in the UK, whereas Brexit supporters are focusing on the environmental opportunities that could be achieved by freeing up capital currently supplied to the EU spending pot.

The UK public therefore has to ask itself what is the most appropriate approach for our future environmental policy landscape: Security or opportunity?

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