In May last year, a report concluded that the UK was one of the worst countries in the EU when it came to protecting wildlife sites. I missed this at the time, but it came up again recently in light of new stories about our relationship with wildlife.
As usual, this isn’t a political point. The decline in care for the UK’s natural sites started decades ago, and has been overseen by governments of more than one colour. There were even one or two signs that things were improving in the last parliament.
The story arose at a point when the EU, pressed in large part by the UK, was looking to weaken the Birds and Habitats directives. I talked about this last year, and that there was good news. The public consultation came down squarely against weakening the regulations, and in fact thought there was an argument for strengthening them. Most EU countries respected this, but the UK was holding out in defiance of any democratic value. We’ll see the end result of this later in the year.
But two other stories mean we have to worry whether the EU decisions will matter at all.
Firstly, as part of the UK’s ‘renegotiation’ on EU membership, there is the proposed Red Card System. This would allow a small majority of like-minded countries within the EU to veto legislation they didn’t like. So, for example, a network of countries that put extraction of resources ahead of nature could veto legislation around environmental protection.
Secondly, the news that a leaked letter shows UK Ministers see it as a ‘top priority’ to ensure the law doesn’t stand in the way of fracking and other infrastructure projects. Publically they talk of protections, privately they talk of ensuring no protections stop the extraction of shale gas. They are even intending to defy their own stated election commitment to planning decisions being locally-led, purely because it’s become clear local will is against these developments.
Taken together, all these stories paint a worrying picture for the wildlife of the UK. Such defiance of the democratic will of the electorate would normally be suicidal, but right now the government clearly feels unstoppable. Strong opposition is needed, which means Labour putting their own egotistical internal battles aside. I’m not hopeful though, not when there is a significant chunk of that party that takes a similar view to the Prime Minister and Chancellor.
*Updated* The results are in…
So the vote took place on Tuesday, and the good news is that the EU parliament voted massively in favour of the report that said the directives should be upheld. 592 to 52.
Sadly, 18 of the 52 votes against were from UK MEPs. But, fortunately, they were pretty much all UKIP. The major parties all backed the directives, alleviating a little of my fear.
UKIP vote against everything, regardless of its merits, so it is impossible to really judge what this means for their actual policies (but THIS is worth a read). It does however illustrate the futility and stupidity of anybody voting for a party that will never actually represent you or engage in a democratic process. Just take your money and vote no every time. Even when the vote would otherwise match their stated policies!