A high powered group of environment and conservation experts, including four former chairs of UK environment agencies, have written to the Defra Secretary of State Liz Truss, to voice their concerns about the risks to the environment if Britain leaves the EU.
The fourteen signatories have extensive professional experience of the role of EU agreements on the UK and include Baroness Young, former chief executive of the Environment Agency, Dame Fiona Reynolds, former director-general of the National Trust, Professor Sir John Laughton, former chair of the Royal commission on Environment and Pollution, Lord Chris Smith and Sir John Harman. They highlight that EU policy “has had a hugely positive effect on the quality of Britain’s beaches, our water and rivers, our air and on many of our rarest plants and animals and their habitats.”
They add that “It is very unclear which elements of existing European environmental policy would continue to apply to the UK… We would no longer be able to shape EU policy and our influence on the environmental performance of other member states would decline very sharply once we were no longer at the negotiating table.”
Comments from some of the signatories:
Baroness Barbara Young, former chief executive of the Environment Agency and RSPB:
“Environmental quality, clean air, healthy oceans and rich natural resources can only be secured by collaboration across national boundaries and common EU standards promote new technologies and businesses. Brexit would halt and even reverse four decades of progress.”
Dame Fiona Reynolds, former DG of the National Trust and chair of Green Alliance:
“Many of our greatest achievements come through collaboration, and the EU has enabled some very powerful co-operation on the environment. We need to be part of a bigger community to meet the challenges to the health and quality of our natural environment, which is why I see Brexit as a real risk to all that I value about the countryside and environment of Britain.”
Professor Sir John Lawton CBE FRS, former chair of the RCEP, former CEO NERC:
“Never mind what you think of the EU generally, you have to be very careful what you wish for in terms of the impact of Brexit on UK natural habitats and landscapes. UK politics has a tendency to be short term and see the natural environment as an impediment to economic growth, and EU agreements help mitigate this by encouraging us to be more long term in our public policy.”
Dr Helen Phillips, former CEO of English Nature:
“Nature knows no boundaries so a mechanism for negotiating between nations is essential if we are to continue to improve the health of our environment. The EU provides that and if it didn’t exist we’d have to reinvent it.”
Mr Paol Christensen, former chair, Natural England:
“I can’t believe that anyone who cares about the environment or farming could contemplate leaving the EU.”
Professor Paul Ekins OBE, professor of resources and environmental policy, UCL:
“Britons have benefited greatly from EU environmental policy and Britain inside the EU has also been able to shape it. We would lose this ability if we were to leave the EU, while it is very likely that we would still have to follow EU environmental laws if we wished to retain access to the EU’s single market. This would effectively reduce UK sovereignty rather than increasing it. Paradoxically, perhaps, membership of the EU is an essential condition for the UK to exercise some sovereign influence over the European forces that affect it.”
Professor Andrew Balmford FRS, professor of conservation science, University of Cambridge
“The EU is vital to increasing the UK’s voice in global environmental policy. Individual nations can have limited influence, but working through the EU greatly enhances our potential to tackle transnational issues such as climate change, deforestation and unsustainable wildlife harvesting.”
Lord Chris Smith, former chair, environment agency
“It’s vital to recognise that virtually the entire legal protection for our environment here in Britain derives from European safeguards. Our air, water and land are kept clean by European laws. And rightly so, because pollution knows no national boundaries. We ignore these protections at our peril.”
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