Mary Creagh MP

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We will look back on the summer of 2016 as one of the most tumultuous periods for British politics since the second world war. Alongside the economic, constitutional and social uncertainty the Brexit vote unleashed, its political shockwaves continue to reverberate.

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First, David Cameron resigned. Michael Gove then stabbed Boris Johnson in the back in the Tory leadership race, and Andrea Leadsom pulled out. The Leavers have shown themselves to be quitters. Less than three weeks after the referendum, Theresa May emerged as the one candidate left standing and is Britain’s new prime minister.

On Wednesday night, May stood outside Downing Street and paid tribute to her predecessor, saying that she planned to lead a one nation government. But she went further than Cameron ever did. Addressing voters directly, May stated, ‘The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few but by yours.’ In words that could have been written by Ed Miliband, she said, ‘we believe in a union … between all of our citizens – every one of us – whoever we are and wherever we’re from.’ May is unafraid to portray herself as a one nation Tory prime minister who will make the fight against inequality her central mission.

To date, we could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. May has a chequered record in government: in charge at the Home Office when the infamous ‘go home’ vans targeting illegal overstayers hit Britain’s streets, during the passport fiasco of summer 2014, and when Disclosure and Barring Service delays spiked, crippling businesses. In opposition, she voted against same-sex adoption, against the smoking ban, and against equalising the age of consent. There are also big question marks over her role in the campaign that the government waged against Sadiq Khan, as she signed a letter saying that London would be less safe with Khan as mayor.

Yes, May backed a Remain vote in the European Union referendum. But she was the invisible woman of the campaign. Given that immigration was Remain’s achilles heel, interventions from the home secretary could have helped neutralise the issue. It is not implausible that she sat out the campaign to avoid alienating the Tory faithful ahead of a leadership battle.

The keys to No 10 are May’s prize after Cameron’s terrible EU gamble. But at what cost? Her energies will be focused on trying to lead a Tory party split down the middle between Leave and Remain. May will be leading a Vote Leave government. While the three Brexiteers, Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox, have been handed responsibility for delivering the disastrous referendum result they wanted, leaving the EU will consume all of the government’s energy for the foreseeable future.

May famously warned her party that it gets called the ‘nasty party’ in her 2002 party conference speech, setting the stage for party modernisation. It is clear that she sees her premiership as the conclusion of that journey. Whether, with our EU exit approaching, a divided party, and a wafer-thin majority in parliament, she will be able to be achieve that ambitious one nation goal is yet to be seen. But May has planted her flag in the centre-ground, the territory on which elections are won. We in the Labour party have a duty not only to scrutinise her new government, but to elect a new leader who can unite our party and help us put our principles into action by getting back into power. It is going to be another long summer…

This article was first published by Progress on 15 July 2016.

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The new prime minister’s chequered record

We will look back on the summer of 2016 as one of the most tumultuous periods for British politics since the second world war. Alongside the economic, constitutional and social...

Yesterday, Mary spoke in Parliament in a debate on the impact of the EU referendum on energy and the environment. Click here to read the whole debate.

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Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Poole (Mr Syms).

We have heard today that environmental problems do not respect borders. I would like to posit an alternative argument to the one just advanced by the hon. Gentleman, who said that everything was pretty much okay. I say that things are not that okay and that Britain’s membership of the EU has been instrumental and crucial to the improvement of UK air quality, the cleaning up water pollution, the management of waste, and the protection and enhancement of biodiversity. It has also given us a global platform on which we can show global leadership in tackling climate change.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Audit Committee, which I chair—I can see several colleagues from it dotted around the Chamber here today—carried out an inquiry into the effects of EU membership on UK environmental protection. We heard from a wide variety of witnesses, including business people, academics, politicians and non-governmental organisations. The overwhelming majority told us that the environment was better protected as a result of our EU membership.

We do not have to look too far to find examples of that protection. In the 1970s, the Thames was biologically dead. It may not look any cleaner from the Palace of Westminster than it did in the ‘70s, but it serves as a great reminder of how EU membership has cleaned up our environment. We can now see seals and dolphins—I have yet to see one from my window. Otters are now in the high end of the Thames. That success story has been repeated up and down the country, as once dead rivers have been brought back to life. Where once it was dangerous to swim, now it is safe for people and wildlife alike. The EU water framework directive has cleaned up our beaches and our rivers, and the marine strategy directive has encouraged us to set out that ecologically coherent network of marine protection zones. It has not been an easy task and I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary ​of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), for his work in this area.

Geraint Davies

Does my hon. Friend and colleague agree that one of the things that we found in the Committee’s study was, in essence, that the European Union is a union, which therefore has minimum standards that are ratcheted up? It does not allow individual members to undercut other members on the environment, which means that there is a platform across Europe, and across the globe as well, of best practice.

Mary Creagh

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but of course the setting of those minimum standards does not prevent individual member states from going above and beyond them. Vitally for business, it also provides a common baseline and a harmonised market for products. That is absolutely crucial for UK businesses as we move forward into the uncertainties of a Brexit world.

EU membership is also key for air quality. Successive Governments have dragged their feet on this very difficult issue. Since 2010, the UK has been in breach of EU legal air quality limits in 31 of its 43 clean air zones, and one of those is in my constituency of Wakefield. Although London tends to get all the attention—as a cyclist in London I am certainly aware of the very high pollution levels—constituencies such as Wakefield with the M1 and M62 crossing by it have severe burdens of cardiovascular disease and lung disease as a result of the breaching of those limits.

EU legislation has allowed UK campaigners to hold the Government to account. The High Court has ordered Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to come up with new air quality plans. In April, those Ministers were back in court over allegations that their plans were still insufficient to bring the UK’s air quality in line with EU minimum standards. There is a series of question marks about what will happen to air pollution standards in the brave new Brexit world.

On biodiversity, the nature directives have preserved some of the most treasured places, plants and species in our country. Many of our best-loved sites, such as Flamborough Head, Dartmoor and Snowdonia, are protected by the EU.

Caroline Lucas

The birds and habitats directives are the real jewels in the crown of our environmental protection. Does the hon. Lady agree that, even if we do keep them in British legislation—as I hope we do—what we must do is ensure that there is a proper enforcement mechanism? That is what the EU has provided us with, and we will need to create a new enforcement mechanism that is as rigorous as possible.

Mary Creagh

I do not think that anything can be guaranteed in this world. The first step is to hear from Ministers, but it is said that today is like the last day of term. I wish the Under-Secretary well in whatever future role he is called on to play in the Government. He has been an excellent Minister, and he has appeared before the Environmental Audit Committee many times. I do not think that anything should be taken for granted. As a passionate pro-remain campaigner, I took part in many debates during the EU referendum campaign, and I heard many different versions of Brexit depending on whom I was debating with.​
In an interview with The Guardian, the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) described the birds and habitats directives as “spirit crushing”. He said that if we voted to leave, “they would go”. We will have to see whether his version of events is the same as that of the new Prime Minister. He also said that leaving the EU would free up both common agricultural payments and up to £2 billion in “insurance and incentives” for farmers. Nowhere in that do I hear anything about the need for protecting species, wildlife, and plant life. There is no mention of the vital services provided by soils and bogs or of the need for the restoration of bogs and peatlands, which we recommended just a month ago in our excellent report on soil, and which was echoed this morning by the Adaptation Sub-Committee report of the Committee on Climate Change. So, we have seen otters, hen harriers and bitterns making a comeback, and the referendum result could put all that progress at risk.

The EU has also played a key role in promoting investment in sustainable businesses and technologies. Investors need clear policy signals emanating from strong legislative frameworks, and, to be fair, those frameworks are provided by the Climate Change Act 2015. However, our Committee has received some mixed messages from the current inquiries into both the Department for Transport and the Treasury. In particular, I posed a question on the cancellation of the carbon capture and storage competition, which has had a massive debilitating effect on investor confidence. We do not want to get into a position where consumers are not spending and investors are not investing, because that is absolutely disastrous not just for the economy, but for the UK’s environmental progress.

Twenty years ago, in 1997, the UK sent almost all of our household waste to landfill. Now we recycle almost 45% of it, although I was disappointed to see those numbers slightly dip last year. The Treasury introduced the landfill tax escalator in response to the EU landfill directive. Over the past five years, according to the Environmental Services Association, the waste and resources management sector has invested £5 billion in new infrastructure thanks to this long-term policy signal. Those policy signals are vital as is the need to keep investing in infrastructure if we are to meet those 2020 waste targets—if they still apply in UK law. [Interruption.] A sip of gin to keep me going. A slice next time, please.

I shall end on the topic of microplastic pollution. The Committee is concluding its inquiry into microplastics—tiny particles of plastic, which can come from larger particles of plastic that are broken down, or from products such as shaving foams, deodorants, toothpastes and facial scrubs. Unfortunately, it seems to be the higher-end products that have not been cleaned up as quickly as the mass volume scrubs. We are finding that the particles have washed down the sink, passed through sewage filtration systems and ended up in the sea. Anyone who has had a dozen or half a dozen oysters recently will have consumed about 50 microplastic particles. For those of us who like seafood, that is something to reflect on. Bon appétit.

Over a third of fish in the English channel are now contaminated with microplastics. As an island nation we must take the problem of microplastic pollution seriously. The way to solve the problem is to work with ​our partners in the EU. Those are not my words. It is what the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told our Committee when he gave evidence just before the referendum on 23 June. If the EU takes action to address an environmental problem, it creates not only a level playing field for businesses, but an opportunity to market environmental solutions.

Brexit raises a series of questions. There is the issue of the circular economy package, which is the EU’s drive to get us to reduce waste, recycle more and have a secure and sustainable supply of raw materials, such as paper, glass and plastics. That would have driven new, green jobs in the UK economy. The decision to abandon all that has left investors reeling.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), the shadow Secretary of State, about Siemens’ decision to freeze its investment in the wind industry in Yorkshire, Hull and the Humber and we face a protracted period of uncertainty. When the Under-Secretary of State appeared before our Committee as part of that EU inquiry, he told us that the vote to leave would result in a “long and tortuous” negotiation. That has not even begun yet.

The period ahead is fraught with risks. The UK risks not being regarded as a safe bet, and investors may no longer wish to invest their cash in UK businesses. Significantly, contracts are no longer being signed in London because the risk of London no longer being part of the European single market means that people want contracts to be signed in a European country so that if something goes wrong, contract law will be enforceable across all the countries of the European Union. That will have a very big effect on our financial and legal services.

Geraint Davies

Does my hon. Friend agree that in the emerging recycling market across Europe, with us being at arm’s length and possibly facing tariffs, regulations and so on, people will invest in Europe rather than in Britain?

Mary Creagh

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That is the point I was making. When looking at where to put new foreign direct investment, investors will look again and go to the area of least risk. Those risks are reflected in the economy.

We found out from our inquiry that the environment and the UK’s membership of the EU had been a two-way street. It forced us to take action much more quickly on waste and on water, but it also acted as a platform from which we could project our own British values, particularly in relation to climate change. DECC Minister Lord Bourne told the Committee that the UK’s voice was louder in Paris because we were part of a club of 28 countries. I worry about the global agreement reached at Paris and the possible damage to achieving those climate change targets as a result of our withdrawing from the European Union.

In the 1970s the UK was the “dirty man” of Europe. Economically, we were the “sick man” of Europe. Since then we have cleaner beaches, we drive more fuel-efficient cars, we have more fuel-efficient vacuum cleaners, and we can hold the Government to account on air pollution. Environmental problems do not respect borders, and ​require long-term solutions—much longer than the five-year term of a Government or, in some cases, the two-year term of a Treasury Minister.

EU membership has allowed the UK to be a world leader in tackling environmental problems with our brilliant science base and our pragmatic civil service to provide good nuts-and-bolts solutions to many of the challenges we face, and created British business as a world leader, whether through its retrofitting diesel buses in China or helping the Indian Government with water management for the Ganges delta. These are knowledge and services that our country can export proudly because we have been clean in the European Union. The result of the referendum has caused a great deal of political and economic uncertainty. I hope we will get some reassurances from the Government about the threats that it poses to our common home, and the actions that any new Government will take to ensure that we leave a better future for our children.

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If you would like to receive regular updates on Mary's work in Wakefield and Westminster, click here to sign up to her e-newsletter.

EU referendum: energy and environment - speech

Yesterday, Mary spoke in Parliament in a debate on the impact of the EU referendum on energy and the environment. Click here to read the whole debate.

On Friday 8 July, Mary officially opened IndyCube Wakefield, which offers office space for small businesses, freelancers and remote workers who prefer not to work alone.

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All of its centres were previously in Wales, with Wakefield being the first to open in England.

It provides workspace in a community of like-minded people, overcoming the problems of solitary working or in small offices or from home or on the road.

The company currently has 27 coworking centres and is a co-operative owned by its members.

People can rent a desk by the day or month and have access to the growing network of IndyCube Centres across the UK.

IndyCube Wakefield is based at the Wakefield Media and Creativity Centre, King Street, and offers 14 desk spaces.

Mary said: “It was a pleasure to open Andy Green’s exciting new hub for creative businesses in Wakefield. With Indycube, creative start-ups have a space to work together and share ideas. There is a real focus on the arts in Wakefield and I look forward to it going from strength to strength.”

For more information, visit IndyCube's website.

Boost for creative businesses in Wakefield

On Friday 8 July, Mary officially opened IndyCube Wakefield, which offers office space for small businesses, freelancers and remote workers who prefer not to work alone.


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