Brexit is a climate crisis all by itself. That’s why we need Extinction Rebellion, and a new referendum

You don’t have to be a swivel-eyed free-market ideologue to see the temptation of using the chaos of Brexit to ditch environmental protections and regulations

Caroline Lucas
Wednesday 09 October 2019 17:21
Christian Broughton & Caroline Lucas speak at People's Vote

Headlines about the disruption being caused by the latest Extinction Rebellion protests in Westminster will build and build over the coming days.

The delays to journeys around the capital will of course be real, but everyone involved believes the impact of the climate emergency, habitat destruction and ecological collapse make it essential that our policymakers sit up, listen and take action.

Plenty of us can also see that Brexit, especially of the no-deal variety being threatened by Boris Johnson and his extreme right-wing cronies in Downing Street, will make the work of rescuing our planet from this crisis even harder.

Not only will building a zero-carbon, sustainable future for the UK be harder outside the European Union but it is also increasingly clear that Johnson’s agenda for the environment will be similar to his “vision” for worker’s rights, namely a veritable bonfire of the safeguards and protections which generations have fought to secure.

As we speak today over 80 per cent of the UK’s environmental laws come from the EU and, while some of those protections may be transferred over to domestic legislation, there is a very real danger that many will not.

You don’t have to be a swivel-eyed free-market ideologue to see the temptation of using the chaos of Brexit to ditch an environmental protection here, to cut a bit of regulation there.

Successive UK governments have tried to block EU rules limiting climate change-causing tar sand imports, pushed to weaken EU habitat laws, voted for an EU renewal of toxic weed-killer glyphosate, tried to water down the EU energy efficiency directive and blocked the adoption of binding national renewable targets for 2030.

Outside the EU there is no guarantee that the tendency towards this kind of environmental corner-cutting will not become more widespread.

And as our environmental protections face the danger of being cut away, so too do the legal mechanisms that come from our membership of the EU to enforce those that do survive.

Let us not forget that it is the European Commission that has given the UK government multiple warnings for exceeding EU limits on air pollution, and has been able to threaten heavy fines to focus minds.

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But even in the unlikely event that all our various safeguards are passported across post-Brexit Britain, there is the unavoidable issue that our role in international cooperation on climate change will be enormously weakened by leaving the European family.

This at a time when Europe, with the UK at its heart, needs to be more united than ever in arguing for a zero-carbon future if we are to have any hope of putting together the international consensus needed to prevent the environmental catastrophe we are facing.

If Brexit peels Britain away from that path and the need for a trade deal forces us to align with the Trumpian, climate change-denying right in the US then that effort will be massively undermined.

That’s why I believe a People’s Vote on Brexit is an essential step in helping to protect our environment as well as the only way of resolving the political crisis in which the UK is mired .

The vote to leave in 2016 was never a vote to isolate us from the community of nations or to destroy our hard-won environmental protections, and it should not be interpreted as such by the latest generation of hardliners pushing the Brexit project in Downing Street.

If we are to face and fight the climate emergency we need a change in mindset and policy from our political leaders. We need international cooperation and agreement, leadership from business and individual changes in behaviour.

We also need a People’s Vote and a victory for Remain, for the sake of Britain and for the future of our planet.

And that’s why on Saturday, 19 October I will be back on the streets of London for the People’s Vote march. We start at Park Lane at midday before marching to Parliament Square to demand our right to be heard. For the good of all of us, join if you can.

Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion

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