Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, 2016. Yui Mok/PA Archive/PA Images. All rights reserved.The UK electorate is being forced to make stark choices at the snap general election. The spin from Number 10 is that the poll is a fait accompli – the Tories will stomp home because Labour is in such disarray. But politics has not been predictable for some time now.
The rush to the ballot box does pose significant problems for Labour, Lib Dems, the Greens and UKIP in agreeing manifesto commitments and explaining to the electorate the complex arguments of hard versus soft Brexit, clean versus dirty Brexit. Will the environment even feature as a major election issue?
Here is a crib sheet of what the main political parties have said in relation to the future of European environmental regulations. Will Britain become a green powerhouse, or return to the status of dirty man of Europe? Will it be the electorate that decides?
Labour: hardish, clean Brexit
Jeremy Corbyn is promising a clean Brexit, with the continuity of EU regulations and even an enhancement of environmental protections. This is despite the coup attempt, and also the internal contradiction within the Labour party of being the representative of labour, including industrial labour, and arguing for environmental conservation.
The Labour Party has now launched what might be considered an abridged manifesto, with a series of election pledges on its website. The environment comes in at number 6 with the commitment: “We will act to protect the future of our planet, with social justice at the heart of our environmental policies, and take action to fulfil the Paris climate agreement.”
Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, proposes a new Act of Parliament that would enshrine all existing EU rules in the British law. “A hard Brexit – removed from the single market and outside of common regulations and minimum standards – could be hugely damaging for our environment, our climate and our wider politics and society,” he has said.
“Labour will fight for a Brexit deal that...makes sure there is no watering down of key environmental protections or standards...A new Act of Parliament...would make it far harder for future governments to weaken environmental legislation.”
The Corbyn leadership has already announced a policy to invest £500 billion in infrastructure through a National Investment Bank. “We will build a high-skilled, high tech, low carbon economy to help generate a million good quality jobs,” the party website states.
Liberal Democrats: soft, clean Brexit
The Liberal Democrats are proposing a soft, clean Brexit. Tim Farron and his party of eight MPs claim to be the sole representatives of a Remain fightback, proposing Britain remain within the Single Market and therefore effectively retain all European regulation.
Farron hit the campaign trail announcing: “[W]hen it came to the EU protecting worker rights, the environment, and our streets from organised crime and terrorism, it was the Liberal Democrats who throughout this Parliament provided the real opposition to the Conservative Brexit Government.”
Lord (Kate) Parminter, the party’s environment spokesperson and deputy leader in the House of Lords, has warned that Brexit followed by new trade agreements could prove disastrous for the environment, and especially for the country’s farmers. She stated in an article in the Ecologist magazine: “The consequences could be devastating and permanent.”
She argued in an article for Politics Home: “I believe the government should commit that any adjustments to EU environmental laws needed to fit the realities of post-Brexit UK must provide the same or a higher level of environmental protection as those in the original regulations.
“Brexit gives some opportunities to improve environmental policy. Because EU policies, of course, are not perfect. The UK’s departure from the Common Agricultural Policy presents a major opportunity for the government to reshape the country’s land management and agricultural policy.”
Green Party: soft, clean Brexit
Few will be surprised that the Green party is advocating a clean Brexit, echoing Labour’s call for all EU regulations to be adopted into UK law through an Act of parliament. Jonathan Bartley, one of two co-leaders, warns: "Brexit is an unprecedented threat to the environment and puts 40 years of legislation at risk.”
Baroness (Jenny) Jones, the Green party peer, struck a more optimistic note, claiming Brexit could also provide an opportunity to “give these laws much more bite”. She argued: “The EU Commission and courts enforce the law, but they have been ineffective in holding our own government to account for its multiple failures.”
Further, Brexit provides a new chance to “challenge the deeply un-green project of promoting endless industrial development and growth which is at the heart of the EU project. The contradiction between this agenda and environmental policies is stark…”
The Green party is, like the Liberal Democrats, campaigning for a soft, clean Brexit, demanding a “ratification referendum” and to negotiate continued membership of the single currency, which would inevitably result in the UK abiding by EU environmental regulation.
Caroline Lucas, the other co-leader, said: “With the Tories already hurtling us towards an extreme Brexit the Labour Party should also make clear whether or not they support Britain’s continued membership of the single market...the Green Party is clear on our opposition to an extreme Brexit.”
UKIP: hard, dirty Brexit
The party led by Professor Lord (Paul) Nuttall GCMG has on achieving its primary aim of forcing a referendum and vote to exit the European Union lost touch with environmental reality.
Dr Julia Reid MEP gave her first speech as environment spokesperson for the party at the UKIP Spring conference in Bolton. She set out what she believed would be the most significant issues of the coming decades, and vote winners at forthcoming elections.
“Once free of the EU, I would like to see an end to the demonisation of the incandescent light bulb, which was invented by Thomas Edison well over a century ago,” she announced. Unfortunately, this is not the limit of UKIP green policy.
According to the party website: “Twenty Members of the European parliament from six EU member-states have written an open letter [initiated by UKIP] to President Donald J. Trump calling for early implementation of his campaign pledge to pull the USA out of the Paris Climate Treaty.”
The incandescent lights are on but there is nobody home.