Kit Malthouse is MP for North-West Hampshire.
“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence…” Wallace Stegner
More often than not, politics is highly predictable. In Westminster, the fault lines in a debate are usually identifiable before even a word is uttered. Parties try to define themselves by creating these fire breaks – “clear blue water”; “weaponise the NHS” – claiming particular territory for their exclusive use: “We are the party of [*insert issue here*]. And you’re not.”
There is, though, one policy area in which every politician feels that sense of ownership: something seems to come over most MPs when they talk about nature. Atavistic passions are unleashed, poetic phrases composed and fierce arguments ensue about who owns this particular mountain top.
The debate in the country as a whole is not much different. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that we have a huge number of charities and NGOs devoted to protecting, enhancing and developing our environment in this country. From the National Trust and dozens of wildlife trusts, to the RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT), to Client Earth and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, there are literally dozens and dozens of organisations focussed on this one policy area.
So when they all came together and declared that Brexit is an environmental opportunity, it turned a lot of heads. So many heads in fact, that over 150 MPs from all parties, including me, have now signed the “Greener UK Pledge for the Environment”.
Those who did so have pledged to pressure the Government to re-purpose and re-energise our environmental protections as we leave the EU, using the opportunity to reaffirm our global leadership on the environment and strengthen the protection of wild places and wildlife, and making British biodiversity an urgent priority. We want to pass on a thriving natural world on land and at sea, clean air and water, communities connected to nature, and a sustainable economy.
We must recognise that we have a debt to past generations and a duty to those to come, and our natural treasures are evidence of that connection and contract. If we lose them, life will be less rich, our experience of the world a little bit more desolate, and our society more disconnected from itself. If we become the kind of nation that takes no notice of such things, or that shrugs and moves on, no summer’s bloom will lie ahead. To do so would be to accept a Britain where we had broken cleanly with our natural heritage, and we would be diminished.
I’m certain Brexit will yield many prizes, and chief amongst them must be taking back control of our own mountains, beaches, moors and marshes. From our ancient forests to our parks and gardens, we truly live in a green and pleasant land. There is already significant support across both Houses of Parliament for an agenda that doesn’t just seek to protect this but aims actively to restore our natural world. At these moments of unity, we can achieve real change and Brexit surely gives us the chance to make it happen.
The following organisations are signatories to the pledge: Campaign for Better Transport, ClientEarth, CPRE, E3G, Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, IEEP, National Trust, RSPB, The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), the Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and WWF.