Labour accuses UK of ‘cosying up’ to right-wing Brazilian government as Amazon fires continue to rage

Jeremy Corbyn urges Boris Johnson to tell president Jair Bolsonaro that the ‘reckless destruction’ of rainforests must stop

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 23 August 2019 13:46
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Jeremy Corbyn calls for action on Amazon fires

Labour has accused the government of “cosying up” to Brazil’s far-right president as international condemnation grew over development policies blamed for devastating the Amazon rainforest.

Downing Street today said that Boris Johnson was “deeply concerned” by the thousands of wildfires blazing across the region – described by French president Emmanuel Macron as the “lungs” of the planet.

But Labour said that the UK was “complicit” in the catastrophe and urged the prime minister to tell Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro that the “reckless destruction” of his country’s vital natural resource must stop.

Jeremy Corbyn pointed the finger of blame directly at Mr Bolsonaro, saying the Brazilian president had “allowed and indeed encouraged these fires to take place, to clear the forest in order that the land can then be used for … short-term agriculture production, and after that it becomes desert”.

In a joint letter to Mr Johnson, five shadow ministers said he must take immediate steps to stop British companies from “aiding and abetting” the process by which the Amazon basin is opened up to mining, logging and agricultural interests.

The party highlighted a recent visit to the country by trade minister Conor Burns, in which he was pictured raising a champagne glass with counterpart Marcus Troyjo, who has defended Bolsonaro’s policy of developing the Amazon region as an “intelligent use of the country’s natural resources”.

Researchers in Brazil have detected more than 70,000 fires in the Amazon so far this year – an 84 per cent increase on last year – with many thought to have been deliberately started by agribusiness firms seeking to open up land for ranching.

Mr Macron described the situation as an international crisis, tweeting: “Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rainforest — the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire.”

Mr Johnson has given his backing to Mr Macron’s call for international action at this weekend’s G7 summit in Biarritz.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The prime minister is deeply concerned by the increase in fires in the Amazon rainforest and the impact of the tragic loss of these precious habitats.

“The effect of these fires will be felt around the world, which is why we need international action to protect the world’s rainforests.

“The UK will continue to support projects in Brazil to do this, and the prime minister will use the G7 to call for a renewed focus on protecting nature and tackling climate change together.”

But Labour said the prime minister was not doing enough to raise pressure on Brazil to prevent the fires, which constituted a “catastrophe” for indigenous people and contributed to global warming.

Mr Corbyn said the rainforest was “an international resource – a carbon sink that we all need and rely on”.

“We’re in this together, we have to save this planet together,” he said. “That means taking the climate emergency very seriously and speaking out on the international stage to those people that have it in their power to stop the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.”

In their letter to Mr Johnson, shadow ministers Emily Thornberry, Rebecca Long Bailey, Barry Gardiner, Sue Hayman and Danielle Rowley said: “Prime minister, the rainforests can’t wait – and neither can the hundreds of millions of people threatened by climate change.

“You must immediately tell President Bolsonaro that his reckless destruction of the Amazon has to stop.”

Boris Johnson meets Emmanuel Macron in Paris to discuss Brexit

They added: “Government ministers should also be honest about how our country is complicit in this catastrophe. The government must immediately introduce tough measures to stop UK companies from aiding and abetting the destruction of the Amazon.”

Shadow trade secretary Mr Gardiner highlighted Mr Burns’ four-day trade mission to Brazil, during which he described Mr Troyjo as “superb”.

“While Bolsonaro lets agribusinesses burn the Amazon, this week a UK government minister has been busy cosying up to the Brazilian president’s officials,” said Mr Gardiner.

“Instead of posing for photographs with far-right Brazilian politicians, ministers should be calling on Brazil to do everything they can to protect the rainforest.

“The government must insist that Brazil honours environmental clauses in existing trade agreements and fulfils their commitments under the Paris Agreement.”

In response, a government spokesperson said: “We are deeply saddened by the increase in fires in the Amazon rainforest. The impact of the tragic loss of these precious habitats will be felt around the world.

“The UK remains committed to protecting the world’s rainforests and will continue to do so in Brazil through our International Climate Finance programmes.”

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