In Search of the Green Brexit

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By Matt Carmichael

That flash of green swooping past the white cliffs of Dover, could it be…? The distinctive tweet, the social behaviour… But does the Green Brexit bird really exist?

For green politics, small is beautiful, and EU megastructures are problematic. Power should be placed as locally as possible to what it affects, where people can be trusted to take responsibility for their own affairs. In common with left wing voices, greenies seek social equality, and are concerned that the EU is deeply anti-democratic in structure and in hock to corporate lobbyists. Furthermore, freedom of movement – so fundamental to the EU project – was not brought in to make holidays in Spain easier, but to widen the pool of workers that businesses could access, driving down wages.

So, with a genuinely open mind from a position firmly on the fence, I decided to find out for myself whether rumours of a Green Brexit could possibly be true.

One thing that’s not in doubt is the existence of the Filthy Brexit, a bird with an absurdly oversized right wing, which nevertheless might fly.

The EU “red tape” of which the Filthy Brexit bird is so afraid is mostly composed of protections for workers and the environment. For example, in 2013 George Osborne complained that the EU’s rules for habitat protection placed a “ridiculous cost” and “burden” on UK businesses. However, his own review into exactly this matter flatly contradicted his claims and pointed to many benefits.  Despite its distress calls, this bird has never been discovered actually tangled in EU red tape.

The ‘Stronger In’ campaign has its own green sub-group, Environmentalists for Europe (E4E), who point out that UK air, water, wildlife and beaches are protected by EU legislation. They “don’t have much confidence that if we left the EU, that we would see equivalent laws put in place any time soon.”

Others point to the UK’s influence within the EU since David Cameron took office. Planned protection for soil was derailed, according to The Guardian’s George Monbiot, due to UK influence. And a report for Friends of the Earth by Dr Charlotte Burns of York University’s Environment Department says that in recent times, the UK has “sought to block strict rules limiting imports of tar sands… tried to water down the EU energy efficiency directive, successfully blocked the adoption of binding national renewables targets for 2030, threatened to block an EU pesticide ban protecting bees and pushed for a weakening of habitats laws”.

On the other hand Burns worries that the EU displays a “worrying trend of prioritising economic growth and business interests” for instance in the Regulatory Fitness progammes and the US-EU trade deal TTIP. Free of such chains, could a resurgent green/leftist people’s movement better the EU’s environmental policies whilst delivering economic and social equality?

Where the EU sets standards that protect people and planet from exploitation, there is little to stop the UK from setting even higher standards in theory. But in some areas the EU prioritises corporate profits over government “protectionism”. It is under this guise that, in its current form, TTIP is likely to see corporations suing nations which attempt to put life first. Legal experts believe the NHS is potentially under threat from TTIP, and weaker trade deals like GATT have already been used to stop renewable energy programs. The problem with leaving the EU to avoid such traps is that there is little to stop the UK here either – from making even worse deals.

Some argue that outside the EU we could stop pouring taxpayers’ money into the pockets of wealthy landowners, restore heather moors and prevent floods by reforesting uplands. Might these ideas come to fruition?

Possibly – but when?

It seems to me that the key issue for greens and lefties who – with good reason – loathe the EU, is timing. With 4 years between the referendum and the next general election (which they might win) how much havoc could the Tories’ wreckingball wreak?

Given their willingness to undermine climate pledges, tourism, free speech and democracy itself in their maniacal pursuit of fracked gas, I suspect the first target will be water. The need for clean water is a major inconvenience for fracking.

The next might be the Climate Change Act. Prominent climate deniers like James Delingpole, Nigel Lawson and Matt Ridley are falling over themselves to support the campaign to leave, under the guise of wishing to prevent flooding by dredging rivers – a “solution” banned by the EU.

Also on the hit list would be: workers’ holidays, pay and conditions; human rights; tax avoidance rules; food labelling; GMO regulation and hazardous waste oversight. The less government “interference” the better, right?

My research has brought me down off the fence in favour of staying in. No one can be sure, but I suspect the Green Brexit does exist somewhere. It’s just seeing out the Tory winter abroad, and won’t be spotted on these shores for some time.

Matt Carmichael is a climate educator and co-author, with Alastair McIntosh, of Spiritual Activism published by Green Books.