Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Brexit threatens our green and pleasant land

The environment has only recently featured in this European Union referendum debate. The chief executives of the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds – two of the biggest civil society organisations in the United Kingdom – came out in support of a Remain vote last week, alongside Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and others.

Readers of Progress are no doubt savvy with the reasons to remain, and presumably on side. But the environmental case, as the chief execs have put, deserves greater notice.

In 2008, the last Labour government set a precedent for the world: becoming the first country to introduce a Climate Change Act. It showed British leadership on an issue of global significance. But Britain alone is a drop in the ocean on this. It was when we followed through to a European level that a deal was secured that can see real change – the Paris Agreement. As Obama said, it was the EU’s lead, fortified by the UK, that saw this deal passed.

Britain leaving the EU puts that at risk. And it will be our island that reaps the dangers of worsened climate change sooner and harsher than many others.

We cannot build walls against climate change, air and water pollution. However much some may wish to pull up the anchor and drift off into the abyss, the realities of our planet will not leave us. They remain, even if we do not. Drop a plastic bag off northern France, and it will find its way into British rivers. Introduce tough rules to tackle pollution in Britain, and pollution will not leave us – a great deal of it blows over from the continent. And ours to their countries.

If we value our green and pleasant land, then we must act to protect it. Talking about our environment is the patriotic case to remain: even the White Cliffs of Dover are protected by Europe. Just imagine what an unfettered coalition of Brexiters and climate deniers would do to our green protections, given the opportunity.

Labour has been right to make this a key plank of its offer. We must not let this become an issue for the greeny elites, though. If you are a parent in inner-city London, this is about the quality of air your kids are breathing in each day. This is about the beaches you visit for leisure not being full of the sort of filth that they were before the EU stepped in. And it is about the great swathes of the UK dangerously affected by flooding not being left at increased risk because the UK absconded its position in tackling the fundamental issues.

There is no environmental case to leave. Owen Paterson attempted to cobble one – a man about as qualified to advise on environmental protections as Nigel Farage is on racial integration. Any idea we could tackle these cross-border issues alone is the project fantasy David Miliband spoke of.

Those voting to Brexit are lining up behind Nigel Farage, Piers Corbyn and other climate change deniers who will be queuing to vote Leave on 23 June. Let’s remain, and let’s do it for our green and pleasant land.


Benjamin Butterworth is chair of London Young Labour. He tweets @BenjaminButter



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Benjamin Butterworth

is vice-chair of LSE Labour Students and tweets @benjaminbutter


  • What about the vast overcrowding and the number of houses that will be built in England over the next few years? Doesn’t that harm the environment? Or are we not allowed to mention that stuff?

  • –> Graham Robinson: Renovating existing empty housing-incl those sat on by owners for tax purposes and/or mere holiday or second home use; building new fully eco-friendly housing (for Councils first) on brownfield first then adding carefully around towns where possible; and renovating as much of existing property be it homes/businesses up to eco-friendly status (triple glazing/solar etc; could create decently paid and conditions jobs.( and workers balanced between locals and migrants). The NIESR recently said that existing builders were not enough for current project so Gov to help start new firms on eg: some self-build, rest worker co-op/social enterprise or German co-determination models to assist plus more renewables firms on same basis- but not Gov controlled. Cheaper for Treasury to pay for all above such directly than more perfiderous PFI/PF2.
    There are housing projects abroad where housing built with cycling/home gardening/ public transport prioritised- same needed here aswell.

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