Are we brave enough for a Brexit?

As part of our pre-referendum debate, Neil Grundon, deputy chairman of Grundon Waste Management, argues that the environment is a global, not a European issue.

Are we brave enough for a Brexit?To say I’m wrestling with the idea of Brexit could conjure up all sorts of images, but those who know me will be well versed in the way my mind works. Brexit is what I have renamed my pet Westie, just so that any potential burglar is truly scared of it.

The so far rather humourless debate surrounding the referendum is asking a great deal from voters who have been blissfully ignorant of any real facts until the slow trickle in recent weeks.

I’m not sure there is a totally right or wrong answer, which doesn’t help when we have to put an X in the box. However, I certainly stand by my view that we as a company have often felt weighed down by the lack of opportunity in European waste management markets while our friends from the Continent have made significant progress in places where we have been unable to gain even a tiny toe-hold.

In the old days, Europe used to be called the Common Market, but today there is very little commonality about it. Take landfill tax: there are over 12 different rates of landfill tax in Europe and five in France alone. Could they make it any more complicated?

When Europe was at its best, we were represented by the cream of our politicians, but in the last decade, the trend seems to have become either to criticise Brussels for things it has done, or sit tight and refuse to lead from the front.

Successive politicians have often blamed Europe for lack of progress or used European rules and regulations as an excuse for not doing something. We only have to look at how long it has taken to introduce legislation on the circular economy to see that argument.

We in the waste industry can’t afford to wait another 15 years for things to change. Waste and environmental policy will not improve by stagnating (or maybe I should say composting); it will improve because those demanding change are brave enough to make it happen, and yes – that’s why I believe a Brexit would give us greater control of our own destiny.

We have certainly begun to look elsewhere for new opportunities, ones that we hope will bear fruit for Grundon for generations to come.

Would we have taken that route if Europe had been more open to us and more accountable? Probably not, but then again, you can never stand still: we always want to be pushing boundaries and exploring new markets, and a Brexit would open new doors for us on a global platform.

This is a highly-competitive industry, and I don’t buy the argument that without Europe we as a nation can’t punch above our weight – after all, the environment is a global issue, not one that can be ring-fenced by one group of nations.

There’s certainly nothing on the environmental stage that would make me think we’d be better off remaining in Europe, but (and I am well aware of the dangers of believing all the negative campaigning that’s been going on) I am concerned about peace and security if we take the Brexit step.

If one politician could talk convincingly about some positives too, then I’d be a happy man.

A comment by Dr Jane Beasley, Director of consultancy Beasley Associates comment, on why the waste and resources industry would fare better in the long run if we remain in the EU, can be read here.