Zac Goldsmith is the Conservative MP for Richmond Park. He is a candidate for the chairmanship of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.
In all the debates and conversations I have had relating to Brexit, I have never yet met a Remain supporter who has argued that we should stay in the EU because of its policies on agriculture, fisheries and animal welfare.
Remainers and Leavers alike know that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been an abject failure – with vast amounts of our money being handed to wealthy landowners simply for owning land, creating perverse incentives to harm the environment, and shutting off the UK market to developing countries through higher tariffs.
Fishing has fared little better. Despite improvements in recent years (thanks largely to the efforts of our former Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon), the CFP has made it harder for us to protect fish stocks and has damaged many of the UK’s fishing communities.
The UK has historically led the way on animal welfare. But the EU has held us back from going further in this area – we cannot, for example, ban the transport of live animals for slaughter in Europe, nor can we properly crack down on the illegal import of puppies thanks to the free movement of pets. It has even been revealed that CAP money has been paid to Spanish farmers rearing bulls for bullfighting.
Most importantly, even while we apply high standards of animal welfare domestically, we are obliged to import products that fall far short of those standards. In effect, we are exporting cruelty while disadvantaging our own farmers.
There is no doubt that the EU has done some very good work, for example on cleaning up our rivers and beaches. And those key EU environmental regulations need maximum protection in British law.
But replacing the Common Agriculture Policy provides the biggest opportunity of all to improve our natural environment. It will be for our Government to ensure that the regime that replaces it both supports food production, and improves and protects our natural environment.
Few areas of policy will be more affected by Brexit than food, farming and the environment. No government department will be more profoundly transformed by Brexit than DEFRA. These changes present risks but also once in a generation opportunities.
We can use the new level of control we will have to enhance our natural environment across the UK, and support our food producers. If we get it right, we can raise standards and boost our rural economy at the same time.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee should be at the forefront of holding Government to account and making sure that happens.
But it’s not all about Brexit. DEFRA already has key responsibilities in relation to the illegal wildlife trade, and Government can and should choose to be world leaders in this area. DEFRA is the lead department dealing with air pollution – at present, not very effectively. More people die early today as a consequence of pollution than they did during the Great Smog, which gave rise to the Clean Air Act of 1956. This is a national scandal that needs addressing. And DEFRA is responsible for flood prevention and preparedness. Get it wrong, and livelihoods are dashed.
My campaigning on environmental issues goes back to well before I first became an MP, and I have consistently championed green policies in Parliament, in my constituency and beyond. I helped deliver a rare pro-Conservative headline in The Guardian before a General Election: the March 2015 announcement of a vast network of giant overseas marine reserves, which I championed. I helped deliver the first global summit on the illegal wildlife trade, which put the UK at the forefront in the battle against ivory poaching. I was heavily involved in the O’Neill Review on Anti-Microbial Resistance, and I pressed successfully for significant additional funds for the world-renowned Kew Gardens.
For many years I have actively supported campaigns that speak for Britain’s small and family farmers, and I have always taken a strong stance on animal welfare. My record shows that I have never been afraid of working across party lines and, where necessary, standing up to the Government.
I have put myself forward as a candidate to be the chair of the committee because that committee will help shape the future for generations to come. I hope that my fellow MPs share my desire to get this right and support me in the election tomorrow.