EU Referendum & Marine Conservation Implications

The recent decision taken by the UK to leave the European Union has left the nation with serious uncertainties, not least about protecting our environment. 

Ironically, I learnt of the result of the referendum on my way back from Spain, having just spent two very productive days discussing one of the biggest pan-European environmental campaign projects we’ve ever planned with our European allies. The decision to leave the EU has thrown UK politics into disarray, forced the resignation of the prime minister and sent shockwaves around the world. It has also created a huge amount of uncertainty, not least for the protection of our environment.

The EU has been fundamentally important to the success and evolution of our campaigns over the last 25 years, with many of our most prominent victories being based on environmental directives originating in Brussels. These directives have been critical to cleaning up our oceans, safeguarding the environment and protecting wildlife across Europe. Member States have been able to implement a consistency of approach to addressing issues impacting our waves, oceans and beaches, helping deliver a greater positive impact for the environment. Tackling pollution and polluting industries in isolation may be much more challenging moving forward and no longer offer the safeguards that the EU currently affords our environment. There is a certain safety in numbers and making sure that the polluter pays may be more difficult working alone.

Shamefully, before the introduction and implementation of European legislation, Britain was labeled the ‘Dirty Man of Europe’, with beaches overflowing with sewage, filthy rivers, excessive power station emissions and a poor conservation framework. Our domestic environmental policies today are firmly set on foundations of European Directives. Whilst there is still much work to do to protect our green and blue spaces, these directives have been fundamental in the protection of our wild world over the last 25 years and offer us strong and proven route to tackling the pollution and destruction that continues to threaten our environment.

The marine litter crisis is now one of the biggest threats to our oceans, as big and perhaps even more complex than the sewage issue has ever been. Plastic pollution is threatening the health of oceans worldwide and urgent action is needed. The current EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive and proposed Circular Economy Package could be critical in helping us tackle the flow of litter into our oceans, and form the backdrop of much of our current work on the issue. After all, marine litter is a borderless issue just like so many of the environmental threats that we face today.

With the uncertainty that #Brexit is causing we now need to question what UK government environmental policy will be moving forward in post-EU politics and how this will influence national environmental legislation. We must now mobilise grassroots support to ensure that the environment doesn’t fall to the bottom of the pile of new policy and legislative decisions.

At the time of writing, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has yet to be triggered so the UK will remain part of the EU for at least another two years, and therefore, for the moment, SAS needs to keep campaigns focused in a large part on Brussels to deliver our plastic pollution and water quality campaign aims over the next few years. However we are also ready to hold UK politicians in Westminster and the devolved nations to account. We will be engaging our supporters and grassroots activists to lobby MPs to ensure that environmental concerns don’t fall by the wayside in these times of political uncertainty. We are already very well positioned to challenge our Westminster MPs through our Protect Our Waves All Party Parliamentary Group, which will now be one of the key platforms to represent your concerns at the highest political level. We will be using this to call for more clarity on the government’s marine conservation policy priorities and how new legislation will continue to support the protection of people and planet as strongly as we have come to expect from the European Union frameworks we have for so long benefitted.

We shouldn’t forget that #Brexit may still not actually become a reality if the country goes back to the polls for a general election or indeed if a legal challenge to the referendum result comes to fruition as is currently being suggested.

As the coming weeks provide more clarity on the pathway ahead we’ll be calling on you to engage with politicians like never before to make our shared concerns for the marine environment heard loud and clear! The buck will soon stop in our parliaments.

We are more than ready for this new campaigning paradigm. Let’s call it #BrexitBlue – putting our oceans front and centre of the UK’s environmental policy agenda.

Thanks for your support, which is now more important than ever before.

Hugo Tagholm


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