Leaving EU would diminish Britain which has gained immensely from Brussels’ standards, 14 leading conservationists write in letter to government
By Alex Pashley
Britain’s departure from the European Union would be harmful to its natural environment and lead to uncertainty over future rules, experts have warned.
In an open letter to environment secretary, Liz Truss, 14 signatories including four former chairs of environment agencies said EU membership has been “critical to improving the UK’s environmental quality”.
Prime minister David Cameron has promised a referendum by the end of 2017 and is seeking to renegotiate the UK’s terms of involvement. Observers say it may take place in 2016.
Brussels’ directives have improved the quality of beaches, waterways and habitats for wildlife, the signatories argued. The UK is also stronger on “growing threats” like climate change and antibiotic resistance in the 28-member group.
“There are many issues which will decide voting intentions at the forthcoming referendum, but on this issue which is so central to the British quality of life, the case is clear: We will better able to protect the quality of Britain’s environment if we stay in Europe,” the letter concluded.
Read the full text below.
Dear Secretary of State
Britain’s membership of the European Union has had a hugely positive effect on the quality of Britain’s beaches, our water and rivers, our air and for many of our rarest birds, plants and animals and their habitats. Being part of the Union has enabled us to co-ordinate action and agree policies that have improved our quality of life, including the air we breathe, the seas we fish in, and have protected the wildlife which crosses national boundaries. Higher European manufacturing standards for cars, lights and household appliances have lowered consumer energy costs, and stimulated business innovation.
As individuals who have spent much of our working lives seeking to deliver a greener Britain, we know from experience that EU coordination, legislation and policy has been critical to improving the UK’s environmental quality. We encourage you to continue to use our membership of the EU to strengthen environmental action including to continue to improve agriculture and fisheries policies, and to deal with growing threats like climate change and antibiotic resistance.
This progress has been achieved by Member States working together, and we believe this is more needed than ever. If the UK were to leave the EU it is very unclear which elements of existing European policy would continue to apply to the UK. The environmental rules of engagement with the EU after Brexit are very uncertain and would be subject to lengthy and protracted negotiation due to our new status as an outsider. We would no longer be able to shape EU policy and our influence on the environmental performance of other member states would decline very sharply once we were no longer at the negotiating table.
We therefore conclude that Brexit would be damaging for Britain’s environment. There are many issues which will decide voting intentions at the forthcoming referendum, but on this issue which is so central to the British quality of life, the case is clear: We will better able to protect the quality of Britain’s environment if we stay in Europe.
Professor Bill Adams, professor of conservation and development, University of Cambridge
Professor Andrew Balmford, professor of conservation science, University of Cambridge
Dr Andy Brown, former chief executive, English Nature
Mr. Poul Christiensen CBE, former chair, Natural England
Professor Paul Ekins OBE, professor of resources and environmental policy, University College London
Mr Nigel Haigh OBE, former chair of Green Alliance and former director, the Institute for European Environmental Policy
Sir John Harman, former chair, Environment Agency, and founding director, Aldersgate Group
Professor Sir John Lawton CBE FRS, former chair of the Royal Commission on Environment and Pollution, former chief executive, Natural Environment Research Council
Mr. Adrian Phillips, former chief executive, Countryside Commission, former Chair, IUCN Word Commission on Protected Areas
Dr Helen Phillips, former chief executive, Natural England
Dame Fiona Reynolds, chair Green Alliance, former director general, National Trust,
Lord Chris Smith, former chair, Environment Agency
Sir Graham Wynne, deputy chair, Green Alliance, former chief executive, RSPB
Baroness Young of Old Scone, former chief executive, Environment Agency and the RSP