Stanley Johnson: Cameron is right - EU environmental protection is vital

Posted On: 
8th June 2016

Co-Chair of Environmentalists for Europe, former Conservative MEP Stanley Johnson reflects on the Prime Minister’s speech last week which stated: ‘Our natural environment will be safer if we stay in a reformed EU’.

David Cameron is shown around a nature reserve at Rainham Marshes on the Thames Estuary
Credit: 
PA

Environmentalists for Europe or E4E was launched on February 3 this year at a well-attended meeting in Committee Room 3 in the House of Lords. We are honoured to have Bill Oddie, writer, comedian, conservationist, and television presenter, as our Patron. Politicians of all parties are well represented on our steering committee which includes Lord Deben, Caroline Spelman MP, Rebecca Pow MP, Mary Creagh MP, Barry Gardiner MP, Kerry McCarthy MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Baroness Kate Parminter, and Richard Benyon MP. Baroness Barbara Young and I serve as Co-Chairs. The European Movement - UK, chaired by the irrepressible Laura Sandys, former MP, continues to provide us with welcome moral and logistical support.

Since the launch, we have also been working closely with the NGO Community. Friends of the Earth, for example, has held campaign meetings up and down the country to promote the environmental case for Europe. As Craig Bennett put it: “The UK cannot win the battles of the future - against climate change, air pollution and the destruction of the natural world - on its own. At a time where collective action, alongside our regional and international partners, is needed more than ever, now is not the time to be pulling apart.”

Environmental case for Remain 'should be clearly and forcefully put'

In terms of column inches in the press, or of air-time on TV or radio, it is probably fair to say that the environmental message is not yet ‘right up there’ alongside, say, immigration and the economy as one of the key issues of the current Referendum campaign.

That said, E4E and its supporters, have not been inactive. On the contrary, they have criss-crossed the country, from Northern Ireland to Cornwall, from Brighton to John O’Groats. At a political level we are sure the message is getting through. The Labour Party, for example, has been solid in its support. So have the Lib Dems and the Greens.

WWF and RSPB in particular worked hard to persuade Number 10 that a Prime Ministerial Message on the subject of the EU and the environment would be tremendously helpful in the remaining critical days of the Referendum. Last Thursday June 2, during the course of a visit to a nature reserve in Rainham, David Cameron duly obliged.

Here, for the record, is what he said:

“This referendum is a once in a generation decision, and it is vital that we hear from every sector on the possible implications for our country. Charities like the RSPB and WWF play an important role in the debate on Europe and I welcome their declaration that our natural environment will be safer if we stay in a reformed EU.

"EU membership underpins many crucial environmental protections in the UK, while amplifying our voice in the world on vital issues like cutting global emissions.

"Of course a vote to Remain doesn't mean the job is done, which is why I will continue to press for change in Europe. I will use our seat at the table to ensure the natural environment, bio-diversity and a living, working countryside are at the heart of agricultural policy through continued reform of the CAP; and that the birds and habitats directives are maintained and better implemented, both in the UK and across Europe, to ensure the diversity of our countryside and wildlife.”

What matters now, of course, is for this important message to be absorbed by the wider electorate. The most exciting about the Prime Minister’s statement is not the defence of the status quo, important though that is. It is his vision of the newly-energized post-Referendum UK playing a major role in the EU’s ‘next generation’ environmental policies. 

He mentions, for example, the need for continued reform of the CAP so as to achieve environmental objectives. I would go even further and speak of new paradigms for combining conservation and development objectives. 

Last week, for example, I visited the Danube Delta Biosphere (DDBR) in Romania, a vast area on the Black Sea coast, which is truly one of the world’s great wetlands, to look at the scope for ‘rewilding’, for example by flooding some polders suffering from salination. The pride and joy I felt at being in that extraordinary place was, in my mind at least,  linked to the fact that the DDBR is one of the crown jewels of the EU’s Natura 2000 network of protected areas which I had a role in setting up over 20 years ago.

We may flood the polders, but I would hate to see the EU Nature Directives and Natura 2000 go down the drain.