It never ceases to amaze me just how big an issue our membership of the European Union is to some people. It’s one issue that tears the Conservative party apart time and time again and gets some people so agitated they voted for UKIP.
I can understand that the stuff about how curved a banana can be is all a bit of a nonsense, but it’s really just a diversion.
Without the EU, the UK would be little more than a stinking cess-pit of filth. Literally. Without EU legislation there would be nothing in law to protect our environment. Habitats would have continued to be destroyed, air quality would be worse, water quality would still be terrible, our seasides would be little more than glorified toilets and our rivers would be toxic dumping grounds.
I worked at the Environment Agency for seven years and saw with my own eyes the difference EU legislation and targets made to our environment. Weekly testing of bathing water quality against tough cleanliness targets, close working with businesses to get them to clean up their acts, close working with farmers to reduce the use of pesticides and insecticides so fewer toxic chemicals end up in rivers.
While I was there, we saw rare species like otters, water voles and trout returning to rivers that were previously too dirty to sustain life. We completed projects to restore natural environments, improving not only the appeal of the green space, but also the habitats for wildlife and reducing flood risk. We saw record numbers of blue flag beaches around the country.
All of this is a direct result of EU legislation. And no, we wouldn’t have got there without a strong push from the EU. A paper published by Friends of the Earth this week and written by Dr Charlotte Burns from the Environment Department at the University of York found that:
“It is without doubt the case that in the field of environmental policy the EU plays a major role in shaping domestic legislation.”
It goes on to say:
“Even contemplating leaving the European Union is an astounding piece of political folly: EU membership has led to a cleaner and healthier UK environment; and provided the business community with the opportunity to shape regulation at the European level and to pursue the competitive advantages that progressive environmental policies afford.”
And don’t tell me that it’s just the environment, because it’s much more than that. It’s our quality of life, our health, our leisure time, our jobs, our home.
First published in The District Post and on www.thedistrictpost.co.uk on Friday 17 May, 2013.