Should the UK ditch the EU’s sustainability policy if we Brexit?


The UK leaving the EU, referred to as ‘Brexit’, is a real possibility. The Tories have pledged a renegotiation of Britain’s membership with an in/out referendum if they win the general election in May.

This has led for calls from some for the UK to ditch the EU’s sustainability policies if we do exit the EU. Tabloid papers along with Eurosceptics love to paint a picture of the EU meddling in our policies to negatively impact the UK. The EU’s sustainability policies is one area that comes in for particular bashing by papers, such as the Daily Mail and The Sun.

Take for example the recent storm caused by the EU’s ‘Ecodesign for Energy-Using Products and Energy Labelling directives’ to make manufacturers come up with machines, such as vacuum cleaners, that need less power and cost less to run. To the Daily Mail, this was yet another example of meddling bureaucrats in Brussels trying to rob us of our most vital cleaning arsenal. Their coverage, along with other tabloids, caused sales of vacuum cleaners to surge by as much as 400%. The reality was a sensible policy designed to drive up standards, make our devices more energy efficient, reduce Europe’s energy consumption and save money.

So if the UK leaves the EU, will pressure by tabloids and UKIP cause the UK to ditch environmental policies set out by the EU?

Despite much bashing, the EU’s sustainability policy has delivered terrific results for the UK and must play a role in our future as we tackle issues such as air pollution and climate change. As Lord Deben said during a recent debate on the subject at Eco Build, “the UK used to be at the bottom of the environment league table. We used to be the dirty man of Europe, but the EU has raised our standards.”

As with many other issues, the only effective way to deal with environmental issues is together. If the UK did leave the EU, we would have to live with the rules but have no say on them. Take for example air pollution; you cannot deal with this as an individual country. Air pollution gets blown over other countries so the only effective way to tackle it is together.

Even if we left the EU, our businesses would continue to export products to the EU meaning their products would still have to comply with EU rules. The only change would be we no longer had a say on the rules.

Environmental policies also give Europe a competitive advantage. For example, the ‘Ecodesign for Energy-Using Products and Energy labelling’ directive has forced manufacturers to come up with more efficient devices, which reduces our energy dependence and costs.

Ultimately we a stronger and more effective together. As Lord Deben said “what type of Britain would we be if we say we can’t live and work with our European partners. We are no longer in a world where you can boss people about. Eurosceptics do not accept the world we live in. If you are going to solve world problems you have to do it together.”

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