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EU membership crucial for UK air quality policy, MPs claim

Parliament’s  Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) publishes report strongly in favour of the UK remaining in the EU

Being a member of the European Union has been a “crucial factorâ€? in shaping UK environmental policy and protection on air pollution, a Parliamentary report on EU environmental policy has said today (April 19).

The EAC report comes out strongly in favour of the UK remaining an EU member

The EAC report comes out strongly in favour of the UK remaining an EU member

Voters are braced for a crunch referendum on 23 June to decide whether the UK should remain a part of the European Union or to break away, and the campaign period for the vote has now officially got underway.

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee today published its report ‘EU and UK Environmental Policy’ which has come out strongly in favour of the UK’s continued membership of the Union.

It also argues that as environmental Directives were not included in the government’s attempts to renegotiate the terms of its EU membership earlier this year, the UK is “broadly satisfied with EU environmental policyâ€?.

The report was signed by all but one of the Committee’s 15 MPs, with only Peter Lilley – the Conservative MP for Hitchin and Harpenden – refusing to sign and accusing the Committee of “ignoring evidenceâ€?.

Other members of the Committee include Defra air quality minister Rory Stewart, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Labour MP for Swansea West Geraint Davies.

Conservative candidate for London Mayor, Zac Goldsmith, is also an EAC member who has previously set out his strong preference for a Brexit, but was reportedly not present when the report was approved by Committee members last month.

“EU environmental laws have played a key part, and mean we bathe on cleaner beaches, drive more fuel-efficient cars and can hold government to account on air pollution” – Mary Creagh MP, EAC chair

Findings

According to the EAC report, the EU has a “long historyâ€? of developing environmental policy to promote the Single Market and protect the environment, while on the other hand “little appears to have been done by way of planning in the case of the UK leavingâ€?.

Additionally the report concluded that a “large proportionâ€? of UK environmental policy is shaped at EU level, with the UK having “significant influenceâ€? on the policy making process through the Council of Ministers and through its MEPs.

Commenting on the report, chair of the EAC and Labour MP Mary Creagh said: “The UK has cleaned up its act since we were dubbed the ‘dirty man of Europe’ in the seventies. EU environmental laws have played a key part, and mean we bathe on cleaner beaches, drive more fuel-efficient cars and can hold government to account on air pollution.â€?

Witnesses

The report was published following a series of evidence hearings, with experts including Angus Evers of the UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA) among those to give evidence, suggesting that a Brexit could impact cross-boundary air quality work (see AirQualityNews.com story).

Defra air quality minister Mr Stewart also addressed the Committee in January, responding positively to the UK’s participation in Europe, but calling for ‘balance’ in the implementation of EU laws at a regional level.

And, the Committee report claimed today: “The overwhelming majority of our witnesses also believed that the UK’s membership of the EU has improved the UK’s approach to environmental protection and ensured that the UK environment has been better protected.â€?

It added that witnesses gave specific examples, including “improvements in bathing water and air qualityâ€?.

ClientEarth

The EAC report has been welcomed by environmental NGO ClientEarth, which is soon expected to announce further details of the court action it is taking against the UK government over continued breaches of EU air quality limits.

“The UK’s membership of the EU has ensured that our environment is better protected and to leave the EU now would be utter folly” – James Thornton, ClientEarth

James Thornton, chief executive of the organisation – which said it receives “less than 1%â€? of its funding from the EU – described the EAC report as the “sane and sensible opinion of right-thinking parliamentariansâ€? adding that a Brexit “simply opens up too many uncertainties and creates too many risksâ€?.

He said: “The report is clear that environmental laws are now better thanks to the European Union. It highlights the benefits of solving some of our environmental problems multilaterally not unilaterally. The UK’s membership of the EU has ensured that our environment is better protected and to leave the EU now would be utter folly.â€?

Lawyer at ClientEarth, Alan Andrews, added that people in the UK “will breathe more easily if we remain in the EUâ€?.

Debate

A number of figures from across environmental industries voiced concern in November 2015 over the possible impact of the UK leaving the EU (see AirQualityNews.com story), before a cross-party group of politicians launched the ‘E4E (Environmentalists for Europe)’ campaign group in February this year (see AirQualityNews.com story).

However, writing in a column for AirQualityNews.com in February, Noel Lock – co-founder of Bath-based, LPG fuel firm Greenfuel Company – argued that the UK wold be better placed to tackle air pollution if it left the European Union (see AirQualityNews.com column).

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