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Britain must not diverge from EU air quality standards if it leaves the European Union, Labour MEPs warned after the UK government suffered yet another court defeat over its plans to tackle air pollution.

The High Court today ruled as unlawful the government’s current plans to tackle illegally high levels of air pollution - levels that are illegal under EU law. It is the third victory against the government for environmental campaign group ClientEarth over proposals for reducing levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

In a separate case, the European Commission is set to rule next month whether to take the UK to the European Court of Justice to face sanction over its repeated failure to comply with EU air pollution laws.

Seb Dance MEP, Labour’s European Parliament spokesperson on environment, said:

“The UK has consistently failed to comply with its legally-binding nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emission target since 2010, under successive Tory governments, and had it not been for our membership of the EU there would have been no recourse to hold them to account for these repeated, fatal failures. And with the EU ruling next month on the UK’s continued failure to comply with strict EU air pollution laws, Michael Gove and the government are facing more embarrassment abroad as well as at home.

“Tens of thousands of lives are being lost every year in Britain to pollution-related complications and estimates put the cost of pollution at £20 billion a year. Worryingly for British parents, more than 2,000 schools and nurseries are located within around 160 yards of an illegally polluted road. Outside the EU, and exempt from EU standards, it will be left to the likes of Michael Gove to protect British citizens’ rights to clean air, yet all this government seems interested in doing is sitting on its hands and letting polluters continue polluting.

“If the UK deregulates, diverges from and weakens EU environmental standards after Brexit, there will be more pollution, more ill health and more deaths."

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Labour MEPs: Latest ruling against government more proof UK must not diverge from EU on air quality standards

Britain must not diverge from EU air quality standards if it leaves the European Union, Labour MEPs warned after the UK government suffered yet another court defeat over its plans...

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The UK government must be honest with British farmers about the reality of the budget cuts that are coming their way after Brexit, Labour MEPs warned today as environment secretary Michael Gove, in his speech to the National Farmers’ Union conference, failed to mention the 10-20% cuts coming to farming budgets due to Brexit.

Paul Brannen MEP, Labour’s European Parliament spokesperson on agriculture, said:

“Once again Michael Gove has failed to be frank with our farmers about the Brexit reality that is swiftly approaching. Farmers need to be told that not only are the UK government going to allocate farm funding differently post-Brexit, there is also going to be considerably less of it.

“It is a fact that after the UK leaves the European Union and therefore ceases to contribute to the overall budget, the EU will be forced to cut its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget by somewhere between 10% and 20%. The UK government will then replicate this cut with our farmers.

“In the current financial climate it seems inconceivable that the government would subsidise UK agriculture to a greater degree than EU farmers will be. If they did, this would be seen by EU farmers as unfair competition and not a level playing field, as a result UK farm produce would likely be denied access to our largest market, the EU.

“Gove needs to stop avoiding the money issue and be honest with British farmers about future funding. Even if we continue to match the CAP after 2022 there will be a smaller EU spend to match.

“What the environment secretary needs to make clear is that once Brexit happens, there will be significantly less money for UK farmers.”

On budgets, Gove only said that farmers could earn a new kind of subsidy designed to boost animal welfare, while in a separate speech, Brexit secretary David Davis said fears about a "race to the bottom" in workers' rights and environmental standards are "based on nothing", saying that after Brexit there would be continued close co-operation between the UK and the EU on regulations and standards, that he says will help ensure "frictionless" trade.

Paul Brannen MEP added:

"We saw it with Boris Johnson last week and we’ve seen it again today with Michael Gove and David Davis: lots of warm words, fluffy sentiments and reassurances about what won't happen, but no actual guarantees, and still no vision of what actually will happen if Britain leaves the European Union. They've still not even agreed amongst themselves, never mind deigning to tell parliament or the public.

"On food, farming and agriculture, as on every other policy issue, many questions remain, all stemming from the short-sighted and ill-conceived sop to the Brextremists in the Tory Party to leave the customs union and single market. At the moment, we already have the fullest possible access to the EU's markets, ie. 100%, with the lowest possible tarrifs, ie. 0% - no matter how 'creative' your solutions are, it is not possible to improve on these. And unless the government comes up with an actual, workable solution that achieves something close to what we already have, as the environment committee warned, farming businesses could be wiped out.

"The Tories clearly are planning on diverging from EU standards, otherwise they wouldn't be making such a fuss over the right do so. Lower standards, worse conditions, less access, more barriers... none of this was on the side of a bus during the referendum. Farmers, indeed everyone is right to be fearful over what a Tory Brexit will look like."

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Notes to Editors:

  1. The NFU say farming standards must not be allowed to slip or be undermined by bad trade deals after Brexit, following fears that food standards will be sacrificed to seal deals with the US - international trade secretary Liam Fox recently said British consumers could be allowed to eat chlorine-washed chicken as he hinted the UK would be open to concessions on standards as part of a prospective trade deal with the United States, after US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said any post-Brexit deal with Washington will hinge on the UK scrapping rules set by Brussels, including regulations governing imports of chlorinated chicken.
  2. This week, the House of Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee produced a report, Brexit: Trade in Food, warning food prices could rise sharply and farming businesses could be wiped out at the end of a Brexit transition period. It said concluding a new free trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020 was “extremely ambitious”, adding the government must have contingency plans to protect consumers and business from the immediate impact of tariffs, which range from about 87% on frozen beef to about 42% on cheddar cheese and 50% on grated cheese.
  3. The UK’s food and farming industry generates more than £110 billion a year and employs one in eight people in the UK, and trade is vital to the industry. The EU is the UK’s single largest trading partner in agri-food products, accounting for 60% of exports and 70% of imports: 90% of Britain’s dairy exports are to the EU; 92% of Britain’s beef of exports are to the EU; 84% of pork exports are to the EU; 95% of sheep meat exports are to the EU; 77% of poultry exports are to the EU; 93% of cereal exports go to the EU.
  4. Last week Labour released its animal welfare strategy, that proposed: designing post-Brexit farm subsidies to move away from intensive factory farming and bad environmental practices; with new trade deals and the UK no longer subject to EU-wide rules, we must have a comprehensive legislative agenda to ensure the UK has equal and better animal rights across the world; an Animal Welfare Commissioner to ensure animal welfare standards are always considered in new legislation and are maintained in Britain’s involvement in international bodies and post-Brexit trade deals.

Labour MEPs: Gove fails to be honest with farmers about post-Brexit budget cuts of up to 20 per cent

The UK government must be honest with British farmers about the reality of the budget cuts that are coming their way after Brexit, Labour MEPs warned today as environment secretary...

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Unless the government’s ‘Road to Brexit’ series of speeches, which began this week, offers concrete solutions to the reality of the Brexit it’s pursuing, the UK will carry on careering towards the cliff-edge, writes Richard Corbett MEP, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament.

Following Boris Johnson’s typically gaffe-prone, detail-light, question-ignoring embarrassment of a speech that claimed, without a hint of irony, that this Tory Brexit that is being foist upon us is a ‘liberal’ project, Theresa May is set to give a speech tomorrow claiming Hard Brexit Britain will continue to cooperate with the EU on defence and security. And, just as with the foreign secretary, the prime minister’s ‘unifying’ rhetoric looks likely to contain no specifics, fail to address any concerns, and unravel faster than the stage at her conference speech.

Just as with aviation, on which we’re still nowhere near getting a deal – airlines are even inserting ‘Brexit clauses’ into their post-March 2019 tickets in case of a no deal Brexit – on security, there is no fallback WTO-style option, meaning it is even more crucial that the closest level of cooperation is maintained. Yet the Tory direction of travel up to this point, and the EU response to Theresa May continually caving in to the Brexit hardliners, makes this ever less likely, whatever May might pretend tomorrow.

Only two-and-a-half months ago, European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned the UK that in leaving the EU law enforcement and defence agencies, Britain loses all decision-making powers in EU foreign and defence policy and will be unable to take command of EU-led operations. In the event of a Hard Brexit, the UK will also no longer have a seat on Europe’s political and security committee, a high-level gathering of ambassadors, and the British defence secretary will no longer take part in EU defence minister meetings.

Could we at least continue to participate some way in Europol, which plays a crucial role in targeting cross-border crime and combatting terrorism? If not, the UK will lose access to law enforcement databases, such as the Schengen Information System, which is critical for fighting organised crime and terrorism and for checking people at our borders. At present, the director of Europol, Rob Wainwright, and the EU security commissioner, Julian King, are both British, but leaving the EU means going from leaders in this field to, at best, background participants - following without a say.

Exiting the European Defence Agency, meanwhile, will mean that we will lose another top table seat where decisions are made.

Theresa May might have avoided this by pushing for a Brexit deal that would enable us to remain part of these vital agencies, but instead, by pandering to the hardliners in the Tory Party, she is driving Britain over the cliff towards a bleak and dangerous future.

The European Union recently unveiled a series of new anti-terror measures, along with increased financial support, guidance material related to the protection of public spaces and encouraging public-private security cooperation between authorities and private operators like shopping malls, concert organisers, sports arenas and car rental companies.

The proposed measures also aim to deprive terrorists of the means to carry out attacks by making it harder to obtain the materials for home-made explosives, providing technical support for law enforcement and judicial authorities in criminal investigations, and new measures to tackle terrorist financing. And the EU is also set to further strengthen its external action on counter-terrorism, enhancing Europol’s cooperation with third countries, and looking to open negotiations for counter-terror agreements with Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey.

Will Theresa May give any indication tomorrow as to whether the government intends to keep any of those new and existing measures under its Brexit plans? Does it intend to continue to contribute money and resources to maintain our common security? How will it manage current and future threats? We can no longer rely on the US for security – how can the prime minister guarantee the security of British citizens if there is no guarantee of a deal? The defence secretary this week said Russia was to blame for the 2017 cyber-attack, but how will the government protect British citizens if we lose access to joint EU databases, cooperation and resources?

It’s unlikely the prime minister will adequately address any of these concerns, if she mentions them at all, as she is hamstrung by the government’s Brextremists who push for a distant relationship with Europe in field after field. Even if May were to suddenly announce that, in this field, she wants strong cooperation, the response from our European partners will no doubt be coloured by what they have heard so far about other fields in which the government wants to distance Britain from them.

The reality of the ‘Road to Brexit’ that the government is taking us on, is that it is a road to the cliff edge. Departure from Europol and the European Defence Agency will be the inevitable result of a Tory Hard Brexit, a Brexit that would diminish our safety and security at home and influence abroad, one that risks seeing us sink into isolation and irrelevance, on the outside of the tent shouting in.

As Boris, his hostage May, and the rest of the Brextremists will learn, Panglossian optimism alone is not enough to turn the reality of diminished security into enhanced safety, less prosperity into more prosperity, job losses into more jobs, less trade into more trade, WTO water into tariff-free wine. The Road to Damascus contained fewer miracles than this Tory Road to Hard Brexit is turning out to need.

Richard Corbett MEP is Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament

Friday, February 16, 2018

On security, as on everything, May's Road To Brexit is a road to the cliff edge

Unless the government’s ‘Road to Brexit’ series of speeches, which began this week, offers concrete solutions to the reality of the Brexit it’s pursuing, the UK will carry on careering...

Read more

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