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Environmental sector voices Brexit concern

Speakers at environmental sector conference suggest UK exiting EU could lead to “rolling back” of regulation on likes of air pollution

Fears that the UK could leave the European Union and thereby prompt a “rolling back” of important environmental regulations – including air quality laws – were highlighted at the Environmental Industries Commission’s conference in London yesterday (November 19).

The EIC conference heard from several pro-EU speakers

The EIC conference heard from several pro-EU speakers

Several speakers at the event voiced concern that a ‘Brexit’ would have a negative impact on UK’s environmental sector, suggesting that EU regulations have done a “huge amount” to benefit both the economy and the environmental issues such as air quality.

The government has said it will hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union before the end of 2017. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is currently attempting to negotiate several reforms to the UK’s membership.

EIC director Matthew Farrow opened up yesterday’s discussion in his address to the conference, suggesting there were fears in the environmental sector of a “rolling back of environmental regulation” should the UK leave the EU.

He also said there were widespread concerns that just the ongoing debate itself on the UK’s EU membership could “destabilise the economy”.

And, speaking at the conference later, former Conservative Party MP and now chair of European Movement UK, Laura Sandys, alongside Green Alliance director Matthew Spencer both put forward their arguments in favour of the UK remaining an EU member state.

Mr Spencer pointed to the raft of EU environmental regulation which has benefitted not just the environment but business as well, describing the EU as having become “as much an environment union as an economic union”.

(L-R) former Conservative MP Laura Sandys and Green Alliance’s Matthew Spencer both spoke at the EIC conference

(L-R) former Conservative MP Laura Sandys and Green Alliance’s Matthew Spencer both spoke at the EIC conference

He conceded that “the EU hasn’t always had a wholly positive impact on the environment,” but said that “we should be thankful that there is a strong legal structure in place at the EU to ensure these laws are applied”.

Mr Spencer concluded: “If the EU didn’t exist then we would have to invent it.”

Criticism

Meanwhile, Laura Sandys commented that EU membership was important for the UK as “air pollution doesn’t respect boundaries”.

She also criticised the pro-EU exit stance of some of her former Conservative Parliamentary colleagues, including John Redwood MP and former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson MP.

While still in Parliament last year, the then-MP for South Thanet criticised Defra’s stance on waste under the previous coalition government (see letsrecycle.com story), although she has also previously said there are a number of Conservative MPs who support the EU’s circular economy agenda (see letsrecycle.com story).

Speaking at the conference yesterday, she said that if the UK voted to leave the EU, politicians would “be coming at all the regulation not with scissors but with shears and without any understanding of the interrelationship of that regulation with businesses”.

Mrs Sandys also criticised the anti-EU stance of the UK Independence Party: “My message to UKIP is if you are not at the top table then you might find yourself on the menu.”

But she said that while the EU had achieved a “huge amount” on the natural environment, the likes of waste, resources and energy were areas “where the EU needs to take a great interest”.

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