Issue 62 | Sept/Oct 2016
What does Brexit mean for sustainability?
by Keith Wheaton-Green
David Cameron stated to EU leaders that a feeling that migration is out of control was the primary reason for our referendum result. The South West had a high proportion of leave voters, despite being arguably the least affected region by migration. But even here, there are numerous eastern European voices and Polish food shops. Personally, I like the Poles and they are rightly respected for their matter of fact work “it’s no problem” ethic, but they came over in such numbers within such a short space of time that the UK population swelled by 1.25%. Increases in population and the density of UK conurbations puts increasing pressure on SW house prices and also on planning authorities to accept more development. We value the distinctive rural nature of the SW and do not want to become like the South East. So it is a plus that Brexit has probably put a break on continued rapid population change. That is, providing we won’t be swapping young EU migrants for retired expats returning from Spain no longer entitled to free Spanish health care and who may increase pressure on our social and health services.
UK farmers receive 60% of their income from EU agricultural and environmental subsidies and it is unimaginable that the UK government will not swap those for UK subsidies; but will they be equal? There will be uncertainty in the immediate future that is bound to discourage investment in new ventures. Local produce is more sustainable than imports with their high food miles and a reintroduction of tariffs on Spanish and Dutch salad vegetables would improve viability of local veg. Consumers might have to pay more but it would definitely benefit our farmers.
Our fisherman will be pleased to take back control of our waters as many have been critical of the EU’s ‘sustainable fisheries policy’ in practice. Keeping out Spanish industrial scale fishing boats can only be to the good of our SW fishermen, provided they are overseen by legislation to prevent the natural tendency to overfish.
This may be controversial, but I have been told that a Catholic upbringing predisposes people to accept being told what to do and that this goes some way to understanding the politics of the EU. Certainly we Brits do not like being told what to do and that explains in part our antipathy to the EU and the comments of Merkel and Junker.
EU reliance on central principles and inflexibility to adapt these quickly to cope with unforeseen consequences led to frustrations and Brexit. Perhaps we have unblocked the dam. We seem to find ourselves once again tussling with Germany for a Europe-wide understanding of the key principles of good governance of our continent. They, as the biggest nation, expecting to dominate, while plucky UK builds alliances on the side.
However, in defence of Germany, on my travels around Europe to renewable energy conferences and on holiday, I have on numerous occasions found myself the only Brit amongst a group of Germans who have always spoken English, even to each other, to keep me in theconversation. I consider this generous and charming.
Some German politicians are now stating that young British citizens – 75% of whom voted remain – should be given the right to dual British/German citizenship. They say the drawbridge should not be pulled up on the generation that want freedom to live and work anywhere in Europe. Perhaps they, like us, have a world view strongly influenced by their history. We talk about how positive inward migration from our former colonies has been to our culture and wealth, knowing that – despite the good things you could say about the empire – essentially it was about a transfer of resources and wealth from around the world into the UK that still benefits generations that had nothing to do with it.
Perhaps Germans think that several previous attempts to dominate the continent of Europe ended badly and that, given the relative size of their country, they now need to be inclusive and generous to the rest of Europe if they are to have a pleasant future. Let’s hope this influences their thinking in the Brexit negotiations.