“The UK could develop a more flexible approach to environmental protection free of “spirit-crushing” Brussels directives if it votes to leave the EU, the farming minister, George Eustice, has said.
Speaking to the Guardian, the pro-Brexit minister said a leave vote in the 23 June referendum would free up a £2bn green dividend that could be spent on insurance schemes and incentives for farmers.
Environmental laws that have helped protect endangered species and clean up dirty beaches are seen one of the key achievements of the EU, but Eustice sought to reassure green-minded voters that the UK could develop better protections by going it alone. …
… One of the original authors of EU environmental legislation was Stanley Johnson, Boris’s father, who now co-chairs Environmentalists for Europe. He said of Eustice’s proposal: “I am absolutely shocked and horrified at what looks like a no-holds-barred attack by the Brexiteers on an agreed consensus that the environment benefits from a common approach.
“Don’t tell me that a new Brexit-led British government is going to put environmental regulations at top of its pile on June 24. It is not going to happen.”
The European commission is reviewing the birds and habitats directives – which define Europe’s conservation strategy – and is under unprecedented public pressure not to water them down.
The origin of the “fitness check” lies in a domestic review instigated by George Osborne in 2011, when he told parliament that the “gold-plating” of EU habitat rules was imposing “ridiculous costs” on business.
Martin Harper, the conservation director of the RSPB, said: “These nature directives have been the cornerstone of nature conservation in Europe since coming into force. Not only have they improved the fortunes of threatened species but they are essential if we want to meet our international biodiversity commitments.”
On pesticides, Eustice said the EU’s precautionary principle needed to be reformed in favour of a US-style risk-based approach, allowing faster authorisation.
“A precautionary approach is the right thing to do but it should be based on realistic assessments of risk and not just theoretical hazards,” he said. “That is the wrong way to go about it.”
The principle has underpinned bans on GM foods, neonicotonoid inseciticides linked to bee colony declines and endocrine disrupting chemicals.
The marine strategy directive would also be scrapped, Eustice said. He cited a dispute with Brussels over the UK’s failure to designate protected marine areas for harbour porpoises as an example of over-regulation, when dolphin-repelling electronic devices could have been used on nets instead.
However, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said electronic pingers could already be used under current EU nature laws, which also protect porpoises from trawling, dredging, pile driving and noise from military sonars.
Clive Lewis, the shadow energy and climate change spokesperson, said: “It is absurd to suggest that Brexit could be good for the environment when the major challenges we face, not least the risk of catastrophic climate change, are international by their nature.”