At SERA's AGM in January, a motion was passed by our membership which recognised the threat Brexit poses to the UK's environmental laws, enforcement of rights and international commitments to climate change, and backed a People's Vote and Labour campaigning to remain in the EU. Following the passing of this motion the SERA executive have written this public letter to Jeremy Corbyn.
We are writing on behalf of SERA - Labour’s Environment Campaign, the only environmental group affiliated to the
Labour Party. Since 1973 we have campaigned for our party to adopt ambitious environmental policies including on
climate change, air pollution, transport, energy and nature.
With a little more than 40 days until the UK could be leaving the European Union and having recently passed a
motion at our AGM to support a People’s Vote and for Labour to campaign to remain in the EU, we are joining other
parts of the Labour movement calling for this course of action. We do this for the sake of the most valuable of
assets, our environment, which affects all our lives and is at significant threat through Brexit.
Labour has always championed environmental justice, from introducing the National Parks Act back in 1949, to the
Climate Change Act just over 10 years ago. As a party we recognise that there is no social justice without
environmental justice. We all have the right to clean air and water, to our green and pleasant lands, and access to
affordable and safe food. We cannot ignore that some of the most vulnerable in our global community are hardest
hit by the environmental challenges. It is also true for local communities in Britain, with dirty, toxic air and climate
change hitting the poorest, young and elderly most severely.
As a party in government we led the world with the Climate Change Act. We were also a significant player in the EU
as it became a global force for action on climate change as a standard and regulation setter, using the 28-country
collective trade clout to refuse trade deals to nations that did not ratify the Paris Agreement. Just months ago, the
leading authority on climate change - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - called for unprecedented
international cooperation and to ignore borders to prevent the most momentous challenge the human race has ever
come to terms with. Instead of the UK heeding this call and rising to the challenge, the Government’s Brexit means
the UK will lose its influential voice, will step away from agreements and cooperation, and will have weaker
environmental protections. These are concerns that the Labour leadership as well as members of the Parliamentary
Labour Party have repeatedly highlighted.
Walking away from the EU means we risk losing long fought-for public protections which have cut sewage polluting
our rivers, acid rain caused by power stations and contaminated food by chemical companies. The Department for
Environment, Food & Rural Affairs is frantically rushing through more statutory instruments than any other
department (and with the BEIS department close behind) effectively attempting to copy and paste EU law into
British law. But this is not a simple copy and paste job. Without the institutions, offices and systems, funding or staff,
our environmental protections post-Brexit are likely to exist in name only. For many who voted for Brexit, they
wanted a democracy that worked better, where those that govern are accountable, transparent and act in the
interests of the country. Legislation is being rushed through at a speed that denies any real attempt at scrutiny.
Moreover, the Government controlled and funded green ‘watchdog’ that is touted to replace the well-resourced and
independent European Court of Justice (which has successfully called out the Government’s failure to deal with air
pollution on multiple occasions) will not be implemented until at least 2021, leaving us without any accountability
for two years. Once finally operational the watchdog it will not even have legal powers to fine the Government for
inaction, which the ECJ can do, and therefore act truly for us and with clout. The Government’s Brexit approach and
with it a corollary negative economic impact, will also make it harder to take forward a future Labour Government’s
progressive green programme, which we very much welcome and support, including the recently announced ‘Green New Deal’. It will also make it harder to transform industries such a move to green manufacturing and to develop
green products and services.
With regard to the Government’s approach, time and again we have been promised that countries would be
‘queuing up for trade deals’ after we leave the EU. These have not been forthcoming, and the danger is that the
Government will now agree to any deal including with it a reduction in environmental standards. Compared to
negotiating trade deals as a 28-country block, with the power to encourage countries to sign up to the Paris Climate
Change Agreement, the US has made clear the price of a trade deal with the UK: lower standards on food. This could
include the sale of growth hormone-fed beef, chlorinated chicken and the sale of fruit and vegetables grown with
pesticides currently banned in the EU, and lower tariffs on agriculture. These terms would drastically undermine
British farmers, putting them out of business and harm our countryside.
The environmental implications of Brexit are coming to the fore at the same time as the Government is displaying its
poor record on the environment. The Conservatives have supported fracking including in our National Parks,
scrapped subsidies of renewable energy sources, built barriers to onshore wind - the cheapest form of energy
generation - failed to tackle air pollution, and raced ahead on Heathrow expansion, against the advice of the
Committee on Climate Change. We have seen Natural England, the Government agency tasked with protecting some
of the country’s most important and irreplaceable environments, almost collapsing under the weight of austerity,
struggling to fulfil its mandate to defend the natural world. Ministers have launched many consultations in relation
to the environment, but no real action has been forthcoming, or legislation has yet been passed. Indeed, a deposit
scheme touted to curb plastic pollution is not due to come in until 2023.
For many Conservatives the Brexit agenda has always been to rip up as many rights and regulations as possible. But
these regulations exist to protect workers and environmental protections have made real differences in the UK (and
it should be said, protections that the UK helped shape) including on clean beaches, the protection of natural sites
such as Snowdonia and Dartmoor, thousands of species protected and almost 50,000 premature deaths prevented
due to EU action on sulphur dioxide.
Labour should not aid a Tory Brexit. The five demands that Labour has recently made of the Prime Minister do not
alter the fact that the Government’s Brexit plans will still leave the country in a worse position in relation to
environment protections, including enforcement of rights as well as international commitments to tackle climate
change. The Prime Minister’s response to Labour’s five demands confirmed this.
In 2016 people did not vote for many of the things now being put forward, including enabling harm to the
environment, increased pollution and diminished powers to act. SERA believes these threats will harm the
livelihoods, well-being and health of millions of people in the UK. As was agreed at Labour Conference if a general
election cannot be secured (and it has now been demonstrated that this route is not possible) Labour must support
all options remaining on the table including campaigning for a public vote. SERA therefore calls on Labour, to seek to
put this to the people by backing a People’s Vote and campaign to remain in the EU.
With best wishes
Jake Sumner and Melanie Smallman,
SERA Co-Chairs and the SERA Executive on behalf of SERA - Labour’s Environment Campaign
cc Sir Keir Starmer MP, Shadow Brexit Secretary
Barry Gardiner MP, Shadow Trade and International Climate Change
James Asser, Socialist Societies representative on the NEC
Motion passed at SERA AGM
SERA recognises that Brexit poses a huge threat to the UK’s environmental laws, enforcement of rights and
international commitments to tackle climate change - policy areas largely ignored during the referendum. SERA
therefore backs a People’s Vote and Labour campaigning to remain in the EU.