Is there any such thing as a Green Brexit?

Our environment lead responds to Michael Gove's speech today

The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, has today called for a Green Brexit.

There’s much to take heart from Mr Gove’s speech. But reality and rhetoric are different things. It isn’t clear how important a healthy environment is in the Government’s list of priorities – assuming they have one. The Queen’s Speech didn’t contain any environmental legislation. And looming behind his words is the Repeal Bill, through which Ministers plan to take unprecedented powers to potentially scrap any of the EU’s multitude of green laws that they do not like.

The UK’s track record on the environment inspires as much reason to be sceptical as to be galvanised. Britain has fervently exported its deliberate programme of business rule-cutting – including on the environment – around the world, including to the EU. The dirty man of Europe’ has fought tooth and nail in Brussels to hold back the ambition of European plans, for example on energy efficiency and the smarter use of natural resources.

Mr Gove blames the Common Fisheries Policy for overfishing, but the UK has been one of the main countries pushing for fishing limits well over safe scientific advice. It was the UK, and the UK alone, that for decades awarded virtually all of the rights to fish to huge boats, not the small boats which are so important to coastal communities.

In that context, what does it even mean to take back control of our environment? Going it alone is rarely a good idea. As Mr Gove acknowledges, many of the most grave environmental crises we face are transnational. From climate change to ocean acidification, Britain has to be a team player. Take fishing: fish don’t care what lines we draw on maps. We’ll still have to agree and stick to limits drawn up with countries in whose waters fish stocks move.

The only way we are going to get a better environment for the UK and the world is if we listen to the voices of the people who are genuinely trying to build that future. The pernicious power of polluters must be chased from the corridors of Whitehall. The Government should show its intent by abandoning its determination to force fracking on communities that don’t want it and won’t accept it. And it must commit to giving people and Parliament real control over what happens to our green laws after Brexit, starting with going back to the drawing board on its antediluvian Repeal Bill.

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