The clock is ticking and we’re off, leaving our fellow EU counterparts to fend for themselves. But there were some good things about being part of the Union, including regulations protecting wildlife and the countryside so what we really need now is a new Environment Act to replace and even strengthen those laws, writes Lush Times columnist Miles King.
It’s officially here. No, not the perennial news story about Easter being de-Christianised (spoiler - there are no Easter Eggs in the Bible), but the countdown begins today - it’s exactly one year before the UK leaves the European Union.
Yes - B-day is approaching.
In the nearly two years since we made the momentous decision to leave our European friends and neighbours and strike out into the unknown, what have we discovered and what has happened?
The first thing that should be plain to everyone is that leaving the EU has not turned out to be a walk in the park. Quite the opposite. This morning, I was thinking about a suitable analogy to use in this article - the first that came to mind was a railway train. The train has lots of carriages - and sometimes an engine at the front. But let’s focus on the carriages.
The UK is one of 27 carriages that make up the EU train (no gravy train metaphors please). We have decided we don’t want to carry on being forced into travelling in the same direction as the rest of the train. We want Freedom! Let’s assume for argument’s sake that this train doesn’t have an engine and each carriage really can head off on its own. That is a pretty big assumption but bear with me. So, we’re in the station, we decouple from the rest of the carriages, causing a lot of inconvenience to the other carriages (never mind the passengers). And off we go, wherever we want. Except of course, we can’t go wherever we want, because we are a train carriage and trains only go where the tracks take them. The tracks in this case are things like international law, the World Trade Organisation Rules; and moral imperatives like tackling Climate Change (only possible at a global level) the international traffic in people, wildlife, the problems of marine pollution and so on. The list is endless.
The choice we actually have is which particular train track to take. Do we know what our destination is? No. Do we have any control over the people who maintain the tracks? No. Have we taken back control? I’ll leave you to ponder on that.
Then I thought of a better analogy. We are one tree in the EU forest. The forest has been growing for a long time. Let’s say one EU year is equivalent to 100 forest years. So we are a big old tree living in a 600-year-old forest, surrounded by other trees - some are older than us (the original Common Market founding countries) while there are younger ones which have only just grown up - like new entrants Romania and Croatia.
The thing about trees growing in a forest is that they are all interconnected, by the wood wide web. Individual trees exchange water, nutrients, carbon, and even warn each other when pathogens, pests or parasites are around. They are dependent on each other. Take one tree out and all the trees around it are affected - stressed. It can cause them to succumb to disease and die.
The UK tree has decided to leave the EU Forest. It wrenches up its roots and walks out of the Forest saying “being in the EU forest is far too constraining. I keep getting pests and diseases from you other trees. You’re making me ill - I’m taking back control and leaving” and off it walks. Where is it going? Nobody knows. Will it survive? Possibly. But it will be much weaker without the support of the other trees and the protection afforded by the forest.
Of course, neither of these analogies are perfect, but both have some useful elements to help us think about what is happening.
Analysis after the event suggests that the main reasons people voted leave were to control immigration, to take back control of law-making, and because they thought it would be good for the economy when all the money being sent to the EU (to help those younger trees to grow) was refunded.
Now it seems the Government hasn’t even any idea of how many people are leaving the country; and myriad industries are crying out that they will collapse without EU workers - especially in the food industry. Far from taking back control of our law-making, the UK will become a law-taker, at least during the transition period. And of course no serious economists are now anticipating a Brexit dividend for the Economy - while the Government tried to keep secret its own analysis which shows the Economy will suffer for years after Brexit.
Still, at least we are leaving the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which has been blamed for doing so much damage to the countryside, decimating wildlife and leaving rivers polluted. A new UK agriculture policy is being developed, which will require farmers to produce public benefits in return for taxpayers money.
The farming industry claims it is already providing all the benefits the public needs. But wildlife populations continue to decline, while pesticide use increases. PAN UK has found that the area of farmland treated with pesticides increased by 63% from 1990 to 2016. If the new UK Agriculture Policy can reduce this trend it will be doing something right.
Leaving the EU also means we will lose some of the strongest protections available for wildlife and the wider environment. What we desperately need, as part of the Brexit “dividend”, is a new Environment Act, which replaces and even strengthens the laws and regulations that we will lose when we leave the EU.
I suspect there will be quite a big campaign coming to push for this. Please support it in any way you can.
Miles King is an Ecologist, founder of People Need Nature and a regular columnist for Lush Times. These are his own views. Follow him on Twitter @Milesking10