EU referendum: Environmentalists stress importance of Remain vote to Britain's countryside in open letter

Exclusive: Boris Johnson's father and Environment Secretary, Liz Truss, among signatories who claim Brexit ‘would be a backwards step for the protection of the countryside’

Andy McSmith
Tuesday 21 June 2016 17:38
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Remain supporters point out that the UK cannot resolve or eliminate problems such as air and sea pollution or contagions such as mad cow disease without co-operation from the rest of the EU
Remain supporters point out that the UK cannot resolve or eliminate problems such as air and sea pollution or contagions such as mad cow disease without co-operation from the rest of the EU

Being an EU member has helped Britain clean up its rivers, streams and coastlines, which have become homes for otters, salmon, sea trout and other wildlife for the first time since the industrial revolution, a group of high level Remain supporters claim in an open letter to The Independent.

The list of the letter's signatories include the Environment Secretary Liz Truss, Stanley Johnson, whose son Boris is leading the Brexit campaign, and a galaxy of past and present Conservative and Labour ministers, shadow ministers, and leading figures from organisations concerned with preserving the countryside, such as the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England, the Ramblers Association, the Countryside Alliance, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

They claim: “As custodians of, and enthusiasts for, the countryside we know that the stability and certainty our membership of the EU provides is good for all of those who live, work or play in our green and pleasant land.

“By working in partnership with other European countries we have ensured our rivers, streams and coastline are in the healthiest state for 25 years with otters, salmon, sea trout and other wildlife returning to places for the first time since the industrial revolution.”

All you need to know about the EU referendum

They add: “With some of the €700 million (£540 million) of EU funding that goes to support the environment and rural areas supporting the maintenance and restoration of hedgerows, ditches, stone walls and our vital uplands, the very fabric of our countryside is being supported by our membership”

And they warn: “A vote to leave the EU on 23 June would be a backwards step for the protection of the countryside.”

Agriculture and environmental protection are subject to more EU legislation than almost any other aspect of Britain’s economic life, and many farmers have complained about the volume of EU ‘red tape’ with which they have to deal. But Remain supporters point out that the UK cannot resolve or eliminate problems such as air and sea pollution or contagions such as mad cow disease without co-operation from the rest of the EU.

The letter from 37 leading figures with an interest in preserving the environment comes as the opposite sides in the referendum debate argue over whether public services benefit or suffer from Britain’s EU membership.

Vote Leave has published new research which, they say, shows the “devastating” impact that migration has on schools, where 100,800 infants are already being taught in classes of more than 30 pupils, and one in five primary school children have a first language other than English.

Leave campaigners claim that if the EU remains at its present size, the number of European citizens in the UK school system could rise by 261,000 by 2030. If Turkey were to join the EU in the near future – something David Cameron has emphatically said will not happen – along with four small Balkan countries who have applied to join, that figure could increase to 571,000.

Priti Patel, an Environment minister and prominent Leave campaigner said: “Thursday offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to say that the situation is unsustainable.”

But in a joint statement, leading supporter of Remain have warned that leaving the EU would “eviscerate” public services, and have denounced Leave’s claim that immigration puts schools and other services under strain as “ludicrous and factually incorrect”.

A joint statement by Labour’s former leader and deputy leader, Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman, and the former and current leaders of the Lib Dems, Nick Clegg and Tim Farron and others, warns: “Our public services face one of the greatest threats they have ever faced. Leaving the EU would devastate the economy and leave hard right Tories at the helm. The combination would eviscerate our public services, including the NHS.

Miliband on EU referendum

“The leaders of the Leave campaign have shown complete disregard for our vital public services, advocating their break-up, privatisation and the introduction of charging. They have never and will never care about what this would mean for ordinary families.”

The EU referendum debate has so far been characterised by bias, distortion and exaggeration. So until 23 June we we’re running a series of question and answer features that explain the most important issues in a detailed, dispassionate way to help inform your decision.

What is Brexit and why are we having an EU referendum?

Does the UK need to take more control of its sovereignty?

Could the UK media swing the EU referendum one way or another?

Will the UK benefit from being released from EU laws?

Will we gain or lose rights by leaving the European Union?

Will Brexit mean that Europeans have to leave the UK?

Will leaving the EU lead to the break-up of the UK?

What will happen to immigration if there's Brexit?

Will Brexit make the UK more or less safe?

Will the UK benefit from being released from EU laws?

Will leaving the EU save taxpayers money and mean more money for the NHS?

What will Brexit mean for British tourists booking holidays in the EU?

Will Brexit help or damage the environment?

Will Brexit mean that Europeans have to leave the UK?

What will Brexit mean for British expats in Europe?

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