Delivering for our environment if we take control

George Eustice has written the following statement for the RSPB. It is time to question the lazy assumption that environmental improvement can only occur when democratic government is set aside in favour of a pan-European legal system, and when the public are disempowered. I am convinced this is wrong and that we could deliver far better outcomes for our environment outside the EU where we would have the freedom to innovate, to try new ideas and to change things that didn't turn out as hoped. The RSPB is one of Britain's largest membership organisations with over a million members. It is three times the size of both the main political parties put together. Why? Because this country cares passionately about our natural environment and our wildlife. Look at the incredible success of programmes like Spring Watch and the passion of volunteers in the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and other groups up and down the country. So we should firmly reject the notion that things only happen for the environment when an outside power forces us to do things against our will. It is a deeply unattractive argument, demoralising and plain wrong. We should not seek to side step the public through technocratic EU law. Instead we should engage the public to secure genuine, politically led change. In the late 1970s, it was the position of the British government that competence over environmental policy should remain with national governments. The UK signed the Berne Convention (nothing to do with the EU) which included legally binding commitments to improve habitats and protect wildlife. We have made some steps forward for our environment in the last three decades but this would have happened more effectively and perhaps faster if we had stuck with the model of signing up to the Berne Convention and then taking responsibility for delivery ourselves through tailored national legislation. Instead we abdicated all responsibility to the EU and sat on our hands like infants waiting to be told what to do. It's time to grow up and take control. As a Minister in Defra for two and a half years, I have seen first-hand the damage that EU law does to policy making. It militates against good governance and policy innovation. Rather than thinking through from first principles what would really deliver for our environment, the all-pervasive nature of EU law means that our civil servants spend all their time fretting about whether we are obeying this or that EU regulation. It is very damaging and means that we stop thinking creatively about the fundamental issues. Instead, the lawyers take over. It is a deeply unsatisfactory way to tackle the complex challenges of our natural environment. If we leave the EU, things would change. Rather than having lawyers coming in to my ministerial office to tell me that nothing can be done because of EU law, instead my office would become a vibrant hub of discussion with scientists, ecologists and volunteers who have made things work all coming in to discuss how we could try new things and do better for our environment. We would learn from our mistakes and we would lead by example. It would be so refreshing.