Green Party MEP for the South West, Molly Scott Cato, visited Cornwall last week. Her busy two-day schedule included Radio Cornwall’s Laurence Reed show, and public and private meetings in Stoke Climsland, Penryn and Penzance. In Newlyn, she met with fishing industry representatives to discuss concerns and priorities for Cornwall’s fisheries given the many uncertainties over Brexit.
‘What does Brexit mean for the environment?’ was the theme of three talks Molly gave at Duchy College in Stoke Climsland, Penryn Campus and at a public meeting in Penzance.
What has the EU ever done for us? Plenty, as it turns out. “Protected wildlife sites were being lost at the rate of 15% a year before the EU took action”, Molly explained. “Now, the rate has fallen to just 1% per year”. Most at risk ? Directives on bathing water and habitats (including those which protect birds) – both vital to the tourist industry.
We also stand to lose the “precautionary principle” – that a product must be proved to do no harm before being made available to citizens – as compared to practice in the US, where a product is deemed safe until law suits prove otherwise.
And what do our EU neighbours think of Britain? Molly gave a surprisingly positive answer. Explaining that comparing the negotiations to a poker game was highly misleading – “they read UK newspapers, and they know exactly what’s in our hand” – she went on to add that her counterparts from across the Channel enjoy watching Sherlock, Yes Minister and – perhaps worryingly – The Thick of It.
On a more serious note, Molly called for the immediate publication of the research and “scenario planning” on Brexit being undertaken by the Civil Service. The campaign that she has led – putting pressure on ministers to release secret Brexit impact studies – is beginning to bear fruit, and the government has indicated that it will release redacted versions of these. But this is not good enough, Molly said – people need to know the full implications of a hard Brexit on every sector of our economy.
Next steps? Molly would urgently like to see a coherent “nature plan”, followed by a new Environmental Protection Act and Clean Air Act. All this is vital, to ensure that environmental standards remain high.
And Molly revealed that the UK government – in response to lobbying from big companies keen to stop “red tape” standing in the way of their profits – is already trying to relax environmental laws. After heavy lobbying from chemicals giants, it was announced in April that the biggest companies would have £100m knocked off their environmental tax bill.
Investment in energy is also a going to be a problem. Funding from the European Investment Bank (which ploughed £3.6bn into UK energy-related projects in 2015) is now in doubt, at a time when government estimates show a need for £100bn of investment – and that’s just for power generation. What’s more, Molly confirmed, any new fisheries policy will require a “huge” amount of co-operation with neighbouring countries, to ensure access to EU and other waters.
Behind all this are serious worries about the democratic process and Government attempts to reduce the role of the UK Parliament. “People voted for control”, said Molly. “But who has actually been granted it?” She pointed out that, with ‘Henry VIII powers’, and ‘omnibus legislation’, the Government can now push bills through very quickly.
One of the most active members of the EU Parliament, Mollyremains proudly pro-EU and is doing everything she can to make sure we keep the closest possible relationship with our European neighbours.
Her priorities? To defend the rights of all people wherever in the EU they live, and to push for a clear plan that guarantees social, economic and environmental justice.