Leave’s wildlife views are for the birds

by David Hannay | 03.06.2016

George Eustice, a spear-carrier in the Brexit camp and a junior minister at DEFRA, is angry that the EU speaks with one voice in global organisations trying to save endangered species. Britain, he says in the Evening Standard, is not allowed to speak out and to vote as it wishes.

Oddly, he says nothing about how EU environmental legislation has helped to preserve wildlife and protect the environment in our own country. To find out about that you would have to seek out the views of the chief executives of the World Wildlife Fund UK and of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. They conclude that leaving the EU would set back such efforts and jeopardise progress made so far.

Even more depressing, Eustice simply does not seem to understand how global negotiations over the protection of endangered wildlife actually work – even though he is presumably the minister who represents Britain at such talks. They take place in organisations such as CITES where most if not all countries are represented. These bodies tend to take their decisions on the basis of consensus or a very large majority. So one country acting alone, however cogent its arguments and however active its diplomacy, will not carry the day. It needs strong allies. That is where the EU, as the largest collective donor of development aid and the largest market in the world, wields the clout – and 28 votes – which any single country lacks.

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No doubt the business of shaping an effective EU policy can at times be laborious and frustrating. It may even fall short of what we ideally desire. But that position stands a far better chance of being turned into action than if we were on our own. Outside the EU we would have much less capacity to influence a European stance and to work for its acceptance by others. Speaking out in isolation may be morally satisfying and may win plaudits for a minister reporting back to Parliament; but it will do little or nothing for the preservation of endangered species.

Edited by Alan Wheatley