Government

Environmental warnings made against Brexit

Environmental warnings made against Brexit
The Resource Association (RA) is amongst the organisations warning that progress made on environmental issues would be lost should the UK decide to leave the European union.

This weekend, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that an ‘in-out’ referendum would take place on 23 June, after agreeing a package of changes to the UK’s membership with member states.

However, the RA says that EU environmental legislation has been ‘the major contributory factor to the growth and development of the UK recycling industry in the last 20 years’ and should remain integral to future industry development that both improves the environment and boosts the economy.

The RA has previously submitted evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) inquiry on the EU’s impact on the UK’s environmental legislation and performance, a report for which is expected in the coming weeks.

In its submission, the RA stated that should the UK leave the EU, much of the progress achieved on environmental issues, particularly in the waste and resources sectors, would be damaged or even lost. ‘What would be lost’, the association wrote, ‘would be the ability to shape and influence future legislation and yet we would almost certainly need to be compliant anyway with emerging EU law. This looks to us like a “lose – lose” situation.’

Environmental warnings made against Brexit
Georgeson warned the resources industry not to become complacent about the Brexit vote in this year's Kit Strange memorial Lecture
Speaking about the upcoming vote, Chief Executive Ray Georgeson, who warned members of the resources industry to be on guard against complacency in this year’s Kit Strange Memorial Lecture, commented: “The UK’s current policy drivers to reduce landfill to a bare minimum and seek to capture more value and energy from resources through recycling and recovery may well continue regardless of whether the UK is a member of the EU or not, but we are only on that trajectory because of the positive influence of EU waste legislation. 

“This has generated investment, employment and a much bigger industry over the last 30 years. The question is, why would we put that at risk?

“Influencing from within as a leading economy and country within the EU is the right way to continue with a long-term plan towards a circular economy. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the current Circular Economy Package and indeed the UK government’s confused and opaque ambivalence about the proposed legislation, we believe our long-term interests are better served by remaining in the EU and influencing policy from the inside.

“The Prime Minister’s renegotiated deal does not change the fundamental debate we now need to have...  The role of Europe in creating a greener economy and the conditions for long-term growth in our industry is very important, but only one aspect of the fundamental debate we should now have about our country’s future.”

UK would lose influence on EU environmental legislation

Georgeson’s comments have been reflected by several other organisations voicing concern over the UK’s environmental future outside of the EU.

The Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) has issued a briefing to MPs in favour of remaining within a reformed EU. The briefing states that the future of UK papermaking relies on the ability for the industry to trade freely across borders and, should the UK leave the EU, it would cast doubts over free movement and regulatory frameworks.

David Workman, Director General of the CPI, wrote in the briefing: ‘As with most divorces, separation (if it comes) is likely to be protracted and messy. We would go into what could be a very lengthy period of significant uncertainty – exactly the business environment that would deter investment. This in turn puts in jeopardy the 25,000 direct jobs and the 100,000 indirect jobs in the paper supply chain here in the UK.’

The Welsh Local Government Association has also pledged its strong support for the UK to remain a member of the European Union, stating that EU membership offers clear benefits for Wales in terms of economic wellbeing, significant inward investment and vitally important cultural links.

Councillor Bob Bright (Newport City Council), WLGA spokesperson on Europe, stated: “Wales makes a net gain financially from EU membership, and this vital source of funding has enabled a wide range of projects to be delivered for the benefit of our local communities. These projects contribute to the health of the economy, support infrastructure and business and provide irreplaceable local opportunities for employment and training.

“The benefits for Wales of continued EU membership are greater than purely financial. We have much to learn from working together and we are able to influence policy that is of international significance. It is a misconception that withdrawal from the EU would eliminate so-called ‘red tape’. There is a need for regulation in a wide range of settings. You have to have something in place and it’s wrong to suggest that coming out of Europe would remove the need for some form of control.”  

Truss supports ‘remain’ campaign

In January, a letter written to Environmental Secretary Liz Truss by a number environmental experts warned that it is unclear what elements of European policy would continue to apply to the UK should it leave the EU. The letter, coordinated by the Green Alliance think tank, said that EU legislation and policy has been ‘critical’ to improving the UK’s environment.

Truss herself has responded by pledging her support to the ‘remain’ campaign, tweeting that she is backing remaining in the EU. Speaking at the National Farmers’ Union Conference  in Birmingham yesterday (23 February) she said: “The new settlement the Prime Minister has secured gives us the best of both worlds and I am proud to be part of the Government that it is delivering on its commitment to have an in out referendum.

Resources Minister Rory Stewart took part in the final evidence session for the EAC’s inquiry into EU influence on the UK environment. He told the committee that Defra was “very comfortable” with directives produced by the European Commission, but that the UK must “make sure that we do not discredit good environmental projects by doing things that do not make sense”.

At an earlier evidence session, Daniel Calleja Crespo, Director General for the Environment in the European Commission, had said that the UK stood “very high, near the top” with regards to influence on EU environmental policy.