On a typically spring evening last week (21 April 2016), I took time-out from my business to attend an important debate on the EU Referendum from an environmental perspective organised by Friends of the Earth & Environmentalists for Europe.
Readers will recall that the UK Prime Minister David Cameron promised to hold an in/out referendum if the Conservatives won a majority in the 2015 election. After the election, the voting day for the Referendum was set for 23 June 2016 with the vote determining our relationship with our European neighbours going forward.
Taking a cue from the scene “What have the Romans ever done for us?” from the Monty Python film, Life of Brian, the debate was entitled “What has the EU done for the UK environment?”
The debate took place with 63 days before the referendum voting day (23 June 2016) starting with a “quickie” round of five-minute presentations yielded views of the development of European environmental values from the first Environmental Action Plan from Stanley Johnson (Co-Chair of “Environmentalists for Europe” and former Conservative MP), the global to local issues in the UK and in Don Valley constituency by Caroline Flint MP (Labour Party), the campaigning perspective of FOE on waste, climate change and beyond by Tony Juniper (former CEO – Friends of the Earth and environmental campaigner), the perspectives of a UK and MEP from Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party) and former MEP and Laura Sandys (Chair of the European Movement UK) on the formation of “Environmentalists for Europe” and raised issues of the democratic process with the need for a Remain vote to win over the Leave vote would require. The panel was chaired by Craig Bennett (CEO – Friends of the Earth).
The heart of the debate was taken a three rounds of a trio of questions from the audience with concerns on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), benefits derived from our current EU membership, the UK voice within the EU, food security and other wide-ranging topics.
One of the final questions was what “sound-bite” message should be given about remaining in the EU from an environmental perspective:
On viewpoint was that remaining in the EU will be portrayed by the Leave campaign as being unpatriotic. However, rather staying in and remaining in the EU is patriotic and that we should be proud to be part in the European Union.
The arguments should not be about £m or £b costs or total numbers on immigration or even what the UK puts in vs gets out but about what values do we, as the UK, what for this and subsequent generations.
The debate should be forward-looking and not looking to the past glories of the UK.
What we want our role to be within the EU and how we can work for changes within the EU rather than outside looking in & develop the opportunities to get the right relationship with the EU and reconnect UK citizens with the environment and benefits of EU membership.
I left the debate better informed on the subject even though I considered myself to have tracked the issues for a number of years, particularly in my submission to the Call for Evidence on the Defra Balance of Competencies for the Environment and Climate Change.
I recommend attending one of the further planned events to widen your appreciation of the issues of the EU Referendum from an environmental perspective in one of the UK cities, below:
- Leeds – 13 May 2016
(confirmed speakers include, Hilary Benn – Labour MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary, Dr Charlotte Burns – University of York, Mike Childs – Friends of the Earth head of policy and campaigns)
- Birmingham – 19 May 2016
- Cambridge – 20 May 2016
(confirmed speakers include, Craig Bennett – Friends of the Earth CEO, Lord Deben (John Gummer) – Chair, Committee on Climate Change)
- Cardiff – 26 May 2016
(confirmed speakers include, Lord Deben (John Gummer) – Chair, Committee on Climate Change, Jill Evans – Green Party MEP)
- Belfast – 25 May 2016
- Brighton – 9 June 2016
(confirmed speakers include, Caroline Lucas – Green Party MP, Lord Deben (John Gummer) – Chair, Committee on Climate Change and Sam Lowe – Friends of the Earth)
- Bristol – 10 June
(confirmed speakers include, Kerry McCarthy – Labour MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
- Manchester – TBC