By Mike Childs
Do you remember the tabloid headlines about the UK being the dirty man of Europe? The olden days when Britain was awash with sewage on our beaches, acid rain gasses belching from our power stations and drinking water contaminated with a cocktail of chemicals. I wonder whether David Cameron thought about this as he complained about European rules on the environment going too far when he promised a referendum on membership of the EU this week.
The blunt fact of the matter is that EU rules have done much to help improve environmental standards in the UK, and continue to do so.
Previous Conservative governments have actively championed the development of EU environmental rules. Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control – to tackle pollution from factories – was pushed through in 1996 with Conservative support to ensure a level playing field for industry across Europe, after they'd previously introduced rules to tackle the problem in Britain.
Of course EU politics and policymaking is far from perfect and reforms are clearly needed. For example, it's incredible that the way European nations vote on European issues is kept secret from their electorates.
Positive reforms to ensure that EU decisions are proportionate, transparent and based on the views and needs of ordinary people are needed. But David Cameron's attack on environmental rules is, at best, misguided fodder for his right-wing backbenchers and, at worst, downright dangerous.
Only the most fervent little Englander would believe we don't need multinational rules to protect the environment. Air pollution travels across national borders, climate change is a huge global problem, and birds face risks as they migrate across countries if not protected.
But EU rules deal with much more than this. For example, European rules to protect consumers from risky chemicals in the goods we buy every day have influenced the standard of products made and sold across the world. The idea that in a globalised world the UK government could on its own influence the environmental impact and safety of globally-manufactured products is laughable.
Cleaner beaches, safe drinking water, air pollution reduction, safer products, less cancer-causing factory pollution, wildlife protection – these are just a few of the wins from being part of the European Union. A safer climate, thriving green businesses, and better resource-use are the areas that now need addressing.
The future wellbeing of people in these islands will be better if we are part of the European Union. Never again should the UK be the dirty man of Europe. Sensible politicians across the political spectrum recognise this. David Cameron should stop his dangerous games and instead focus on what matters for people: a healthy environment and vibrant sustainable economy.
Mike Childs is head of policy at Friends Of The Earth
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