How do you squeeze environmental issues into an election campaign dominated by Brexit? Perhaps by making Brexit about environmental issues.
That’s what Labour’s shadow trade minister Barry Gardiner did Tuesday night, accusing the Conservatives of using Brexit as a “vehicle for deregulation”, and putting the UK’s environment at risk as a consequence.
Gardiner was speaking at the Greener UK hustings, organised by a wide-ranging coalition of environmental NGOs held at London’s Royal Society on 30 May. His comments were directed at the Conservatives’ representative on the panel, environment minister Thérèse Coffey.
Gardiner said: “Many in her own party are driven by Brexit acting as a vehicle for deregulation, and that is why it is so frightening that there will not be the same oversight as that which was previously provided by the European Union.”
Coffey responded that the Conservatives were not trying to undo EU regulations, but were open to exploring all the “opportunities” that Brexit provided for revisiting environmental regulations. That including those that protect particular species under the EU’s habitat directive.
She said her party had been praised by many environmental NGOs for this open-minded approach.
This comment comes, however, after leaked documents show the Conservative government lobbying the EU for weaker climate targets on the same day that Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50.
Deregulation wasn’t the only issue on which the representatives of the major parties disagreed.
Gardiner, along with Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson Kate Parminter and Green party transport spokesperson Caroline Russell, all said that Brexit was mostly a “threat” to the UK’s environmental laws.
Only Coffey emphasised the supposed “opportunities” that could come from revising the regulations once they are brought into UK law under as part of the Great Repeal Bill.
Though Coffey added that EU environmental regulations would not be subject to the Conservative’s “one in, two out” rule that seeks to cut redtape.
In response to a question from the audience about the status of international climate agreements, Gardiner said it was a “disgrace” that the UK was only country with a positive reputation on tackling climate change to not criticise US president Donald Trump’s threat to leave the Paris Agreement at the G7 meeting this week.
While Coffey did not comment on the Paris Agreement or Trump specifically, she did say the Conservatives were committed to “leaving the environment in a better place than we left it”, and that included on issues relating to climate change – mirroring the strong words on climate change delivered in the party’s manifesto, released last week.
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