Mary Creagh MP

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During the referendum campaign the Environmental Audit Committee, which I chair, conducted an inquiry which concluded that membership of the EU has been overwhelmingly positive for the UK’s environment. The EU shapes an estimated 80% of our national environmental laws, and few areas of Government policy will be more affected by the referendum result. Theresa May’s Government must ensure that leaving the EU does not mean going back to the days when Britain was the ‘dirty man’ of Europe.

When they appeared in front of my committee, neither DExEU Minister Robin Walker nor Defra Minister Therese Coffey could offer any reassurance that EU environmental protections or funding for agri-environment schemes would be maintained when we leave. And they had no details about the process of leaving or the shape of our future relationship with Europe.

Over the summer we published a report calling on the Government to ban microbeads. These tiny pieces of plastic, found in many household products, are polluting our seas and entering the foodchain. If you’ve eaten 6 oysters, you’ll have eaten 50 microplastic particles. A week after our report was published, the Government accepted our recommendation, which may be a new world record for select committees.  Of course, fish and seabirds do not care where the plastic they are eating comes from, so it’s vital the ban covers all solid plastic in all down the drain products. 

Our recent report on Department for Transport’s environmental record found lacklustre progress on tackling transport emissions, which are now the biggest single source of greenhouse gas emissions. To meet our climate change targets at the lowest cost to the public, we need two thirds of all new cars to be ultra-low emissions vehicles by 2030. We have no confidence the Government will meet this target.

We also heard that 38 of 43 air quality zones have illegally high levels of NOx, a pollutant which causes respiratory diseases.  The Government’s plan to deal with this problem will only bring levels within legal limits by 2020, ten years behind schedule.  More support for cleaner cars would reduce air pollution, and give manufacturers like Nissan, Toyota, LTI and Honda a reason to choose their UK assembly plants to make their latest, cleanest, models. This is particularly important given the uncertainty that has followed the EU referendum result.

Looking ahead, our report on the Treasury’s environmental record will be published before this year’s Autumn Statement. So far we’ve heard that the decision to cancel the Carbon Capture and Storage competition in last year’s spending review will make it £30 billion more expensive to meet our long-term climate change targets. We also received evidence that a whole host of Treasury decisions, such as cancelling the zero carbon standard for new homes and withdrawing the PFI incentive for recycling projects have damaged investor confidence in the sustainability sectors.

This autumn we will begin a new inquiry into how the UK can implement the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals. It will look at how eradicating poverty, ending discrimination against women and girls, reducing inequality and building a more sustainable economy can be achieved here in the UK. With key EU social and environmental protections in doubt, international agreements and frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals will become important in tracking success – or failure – in these areas.

Article for House magazine - September 2016

During the referendum campaign the Environmental Audit Committee, which I chair, conducted an inquiry which concluded that membership of the EU has been overwhelmingly positive for the UK’s environment. The...

What a summer it’s been! The Olympic and Paralympic Games have had me glued to the TV set.

We have so much to be proud of. At the Olympics, Team GB beat its own record from 2012, winning 67 medals - of which 27 were gold. Yorkshire athletes won 14 medals, including five golds. If we were a country, that would put us seventeenth in the medal tables, just behind Jamaica, which - let’s not forget - is home to Usain Bolt.

Yorkshire’s finest Olympians include triathletes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee and Vicky Holland, who won gold, silver and bronze medals respectively. In the Paralympics, flying the flag for Yorkshire are gold medal winners like rower Laurence Whiteley and wheelchair racer Hannah Cockroft.

The best thing about the Olympics and Paralympics is everyone back home coming together to celebrate. I know we’re all looking forward to welcoming our champions back to Yorkshire with the parade in Leeds next Wednesday, 28 September. Perhaps most importantly, our athletes can inspire kids to become the next generation of medal winners. They can also help to encourage people of all ages to try out new sports.

With such success in 2012 and just this summer, you’d think that, as a nation, we’d be a bit more active. But Government figures reveal that participation in sports has actually fallen. Of the 26 Olympic sports, participation has increased in just three since 2012. Fewer than one in five children between five and 15 play competitive sport outside school. Over a quarter of a million more adults were completely inactive last year than in 2012, and nearly half of that increase is among the least well off. In Yorkshire, 70,000 fewer people exercise or play sport at least once a week.

Why, then, are we less likely to get active? The Tories in Government have taken an axe to sport. They scrapped Labour’s target of ensuring at least two hours of PE for every child every week. When Labour left Government in 2010, more than 90% of school children were doing two or more hours of sport – and over half were doing at least three hours a week. The Tories also cut £162 a year for the School Sports Partnerships programme, and their stripping back of funding for local councils means that even the basics of maintaining facilities like swimming pools, football pitches and gyms.

Keeping fit and active has huge benefits not only for physical and mental well being, but can help boost academic achievement, improve community cohesion and reduce youth crime. It’s a pity the Tories have done so little to encourage it.

The best activity is one you can stick to. I cycle to work every day, channelling my inner Laura Trott on the way to Westminster. A week tomorrow, Saturday 1 October, I’ll be putting on my trainers and heading to Thornes Park to celebrate the anniversary of parkrun. It’s a weekly 5k run (although lots of people, like me, choose to walk or jog!), open to everyone, regardless of age or ability, and free to attend. Find out more at Parkruns are a fun way of getting a bit of exercise - and maybe getting into running!

The best way to celebrate the success of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes would be for this Government to show its commitment to sport. It might be a bit late for me, but the next Hannah Cockroft or Brownlee brothers are counting on it.

Wakefield Express column September 2016

What a summer it’s been! The Olympic and Paralympic Games have had me glued to the TV set. We have so much to be proud of. At the Olympics, Team...

Theresa May’s honeymoon is over. The government’s Brexit plans have started to unravel. May told the G20 that a points-based immigration system – the preferred model of Boris Johnson, her foreign secretary – won’t work.

David Davis said it would be hard to stay in the single market if the government wanted to restrict EU migration, only to be slapped down by No 10. Then Liam Fox labelled British businesses “too fat and lazy” to export successfully. Not the smoothest of starts to this vital period for the UK.

The priority in the negotiations must be to protect British jobs, British workers and the British economy.

The single market is the trading arrangement that benefits our economy most. The government’s focus must be on ensuring that Britain retains full, unfettered access to it. Without it, key UK industries like financial services and car manufacturing will be hit and our economy will suffer.

Remember when the Leave campaign promised that we would not lose single market access? Or that there would be no increased barriers to trade? Or that Brexit would not damage our economy?

The only way to keep these promises is to remain in the single market. Reform should be possible on freedom of movement, perhaps by introducing an emergency brake, or mandating that EU citizens must have a job offer before they can take up residency in the UK.

Mainstream parties in EU capitals will be willing to discuss reform. To keep the UK’s access to the single market, they and we must be prepared to make changes to some aspects of free movement.

As chair of parliament’s environmental audit committee, I am also worried a return to the bad old days when the UK was the “dirty man” of Europe.

The majority of laws protecting our wildlife, beaches, rivers and air quality come from EU legislation. During the referendum campaign my committee raised concerns that a Leave vote would spark a bonfire of environmental protections.

Last Wednesday in her evidence to the committee Therese Coffey, the Defra minister, offered no commitment that the government will keep these protections.

The chancellor’s August announcement on EU funding is not quite what it seems. Farm payments, known as CAP Pillar 1, are guaranteed until 2020.

However, funding for regional development schemes and agri-environment schemes for things like flood prevention, bog restoration and protecting endangered species is limited to projects approved before this year’s autumn statement.

There are no guarantees after that date. That means billions of pounds of environment and regeneration funding could be lost.

In their evidence, neither Coffey nor her colleague Robin Walker, the minister for the Department for Exiting the European Union, could say what the Treasury approval will rest on, nor what will happen after the autumn statement.

Farmers and disadvantaged rural communities who receive EU support deserve certainty about the future of their funding.

The fault lines in the government are exposed and multiplying. One thing’s for sure: May’s smoke and mirrors game on Brexit is wilting under scrutiny at home and abroad.

The uncertainty is toxic for our economy and our environment. “Brexit means Brexit” has been revealed as a soothing soundbite which signifies, so far, nothing.

This article was first published on The Times's Red Box on 16 September 2016, here.

This uncertainty is toxic for our economy and our environment

Theresa May’s honeymoon is over. The government’s Brexit plans have started to unravel. May told the G20 that a points-based immigration system – the preferred model of Boris Johnson, her...

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