S & S Opinion: Ode to Boris – Will Brexit really matter if Europe and the world are burning?

Whether your political heart bleeds blue, red, yellow, green, dare I say it purple or whatever colour would represent the Brexit Party – sustainability is an issue that cuts across party lines. In ‘Ode to Boris: Will Brexit really matter if Europe and the world are burning?’ I have detailed what the Downing Street developments and Crowning of Johnson, with a very right reshuffle of the cabinet formed with the sole objective to deliver Brexit by October 31st , mean for the sustainability and environmental agenda.

For someone who listens to Radio 4 more than your average 25 year old – this week I’ve wondered who needs HBO or BBC Dramas when you have British politics? In a dramatic turn of events, many were unsurprised to see Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (Boris to you and I) crowned leader of the Conservative Party and thus the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom this week. Defeating Jeremy Hunt with 92,153 votes to his rival’s 46,656 – the final round of hustings where 160,000 Conservative members were eligible to vote in the contest, saw turnout as high as 87.4%. Some may call this battle ‘Man who calls women in Burka’s letter boxes VS Man who attacks Junior Doctors for not working hard enough’, spoilt for choice really!  Interestingly, Boris’ share of the vote was slightly lower (66.4%) than that of good old David Cameron in the 2005 Tory leadership election at (67.6%).

So, it’s all change at Downing Street as we bade farewell to Theresa on Wednesday as she pops off for some well needed rest and dance lessons and Boris undergoes more than a game of musical chairs with his cabinet reshuffle to the right. But what exactly does this mean for Britain’s sustainability and environmental agenda? This article seeks to act as a brief exploration of the track record of our new Prime Ministerial incumbent, his stance on sustainability issues, hypothesising how the environmental agenda will develop and the extent to which it will be overshadowed by Brexit.

Concurrently to the metamorphosis undergone at No 10 – Britain experienced its hottest day EVER on record with temperatures above 38 degrees and a pivotal ComRes survey, commissioned by Christian Aid, found that 71% of the UK public agreed that climate change would be more important than the country’s departure from the EU in the long term. The report sited that 6/10 adults stated the government was not doing enough to prioritise the climate crisis.

Coincidence?! I think not…

During Johnson’s acceptance speech his rhetoric spoke of uniting the country, defeating Jeremy Corbyn and delivering Brexit.

“We are going to get Brexit done on 31 October, we are going to take advantage of all the opportunities that it will bring in a new spirit of can-do.”

There was however, no mention of climate change and it was also not included within his six point plan on the Conservative Party’s website.

Prior to his new appointment, it’s intriguing to trace the history of Boris’ commitment to these issues, some may argue there are more mixed signals than a broken traffic light. 

During his reign as Mayor of London in 2011 he stated “I want now to unleash the same entrepreneurial drive and creative genius of the industrial revolution to achieve what is now the 21st century’s environmental imperative, to cut carbon output and secure the city’s energy supply, whilst making services more efficient and better value for money.”

Many of his mayoral policies had strong intentions including delivering the city with 14,000 “green-collar” jobs by 2025, proposing emission free zones and of course introducing the infamous Boris Bikes – London’s bike-sharing programme.

This messaging was continued in his 2012 re-election campaign whereby he promised to expand London’s Green spaces and stated climate change as “one of the most serious challenges we face.”

Sounds promising right?

Serving in the Foreign Office from 2016-2018 his behaviour paints a mixed picture.  During this time, there was a 60% cut in climate “attaches”, which the then UK special representative for climate change and former chief scientist, Prof. David King, was forbidden from revealing to the media through a non-disclosure agreement.

Johnson has faced much backlash from environmentalists who heavily critique his record in Parliament voting against carbon capture, storage technology investments and has proven to be in favour of the taxation of renewable energy projects.

This trajectory is disconcerting, however, it is in true contradictory BoJo style where we don’t know what he truly thinks, as he likes to change as often as a chameleon. Evidence of this was in 2017 and his open criticism to our dear friend Donal Trump when his administration withdrew from the Paris Agreement whereby he consequently urged them to return stations “We continue to lobby the U.S. at all levels to continue to take climate change extremely seriously.”

Putting Johnson’s unstable commitment to climate and sustainability aside – what’s the 411 on the new Environmental Secretary? With Gove now promoted to chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, he has been replaced by Theresa Villiers, former transport and Northern Ireland Secretary to Cameron and MP for Chipping Barnet. A pro Brexiteer and Euro sceptic, this is an essential pre-requisite of Boris’ new gang. Digging into Villiers background – she is committed to animal welfare, however I found it rather alarming as her voting history reveals she has chimed against renewables, is pro -fracking as well as being in favour of selling publicly owned forests. However, it should be noted that in each of these instances, she was following the party whip.

The fact Villiers has previously outrightly voted against setting targets for CO2 emissions and greenhouse gases is enough to make the calmest of people slightly anxious.  

With such a broad remit at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs which covers issues such as climate change, fishing and seafood industries, farming, flooding and bringing food, animals and plants to the UK from abroad it will be intriguing, to say the least, to see how her policy and stance develops. With many EU regulations on things such as environmental targets, agricultural farming and GMO foods are up for discussion as we leave the EU, Villiers will have a lot on her plate, quite literally.

A brisk side note on Sajid Javid, new Chancellor of the Exchequer and the only new cabinet minister who bucks the membership trend as he was a Remainer. I am curious to see what the former city banker will he do to encourage sustainable investing and green bonds and how much he is willing to spend of the budget in that famous red briefcase to tackle these key issues. The sceptic in me leads one to believe he may be too preoccupied spending that infamous ‘£350 million that we send to the EU’ that propelled the leave campaign IF we successfully leave on October 31st.

Needless to say, I wait with baited breath to see how Boris as a leader and his newly formed government tackle the challenges that lie ahead in regards to carbon management, phasing out coal, reaching Paris targets, encouraging innovation and technology and driving the country to its new net zero by 2050 commitments.

Final Thoughts

This government’s sole objective and dedication to leaving the European Union on the 31st October, deal or no deal, will undeniably affect the trajectory of the UK’s commitment to the global sustainability agenda and tackling the key issues.

Referring to the aforementioned statistic which finds 71% of the UK public prioritising climate change over our departure from the EU, there is no doubt Johnson will be under pressure to deliver net zero and green Brexit policies in the coming weeks. 

A crucial side plot to this story is how will the new group of backbenchers warming the seats such as Hammond and old Cabinet ministers push Johnson’s team to keep sustainability and climate at the forefront of the agenda?

Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven stated “Boris Johnson will step into No.10 as multiple temperature records are being broken in the UK and around the world. The challenge of the climate and nature emergencies is staring us all in the face – the question is whether the new Prime Minister is ready to rise to it,”

Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee is unconvinced on the above, as on Radio 4’s Friday Night episode of ‘Any Questions?’ she gave the Government a “D+ at best” and questioned how the government could declare a climate emergency only a few months ago with the continuum of not treating it like one acting out business as usual?

My final musing is – do we want the next few decades of our history to be about Brexit or how we impacted climate change for a sustainable planet protecting our country and future generations?

If you’re interested you can also read the full record of Boris Johnson’s sustainability record here.

You can read my full explanation of climate change here.

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