EU membership ‘vital’ for tackling air pollution – Labour

UK membership of the European Union is ‘vital’ for tackling air pollution, says Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary Kerry McCarthy

The UK’s membership of the European Union is “vital” for tackling air pollution and other environmental issues, according to Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary Kerry McCarthy MP.

Labour's Shadow Environment Secretary, Kerry McCarthy, speaking ahead of a bill reading earlier this month (photo: Thom Undrell)

Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, Kerry McCarthy, speaking ahead of a bill reading earlier this month (photo: Thom Undrell)

In her first Labour Party conference speech since her appointment to the frontbench earlier this month (September 14) Ms McCarthy sought to highlight the importance of “co-operation” in Europe on environmental issues.

There has been much debate and speculation over whether the UK should remain a part of the EU, with a referendum on the issue expected before the end of 2017. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, is currently engaged in negotiations with other Member States over the terms of UK membership, and he and the Conservative Party have yet to confirm whether or not they are in favour of continued EU membership.

However, the Labour MP for Bristol East today (September 29) suggested a very firm stance on the issue: “Environmental protection, air pollution, the circular economy, food and farming – our continued membership of the European Union is vital on all these issues and more. We achieve so much more by co-operation than by acting alone.”

Delivering her speech to the conference in Brighton, Ms McCarthy gave little in the way of detail on specific air quality policy, but asked the audience “what could be more critical to our health than the air we breathe in our towns, our cities, and our countryside?”


She then also criticised the Conservative government over claims that it was warned about the manipulation of diesel car emissions tests — as Volkswagen has recently admitted doing in the USA (see story) — 12 months ago.

Ms McCarthy told the conference: “90 per cent of UK town and cities breach clean air limits. From cancer to asthma, air pollution is making too many of us ill. 50,000 early deaths a year.

“The Tories know this. Just as they apparently knew — a year ago — that diesel cars were cheating emissions tests. Standards that are there to protect our air and our health. Yet they chose to do nothing. That’s not just shockingly complacent, that’s negligent. It’s a dereliction of duty.”

Earlier this year, the Conservative Party manifesto for the 2015 General Election claimed that the coalition government had been the ‘greenest government ever’.

She continued: “Conference, this government is no friend of the environment.”


Ms McCarthy was appointed to the Labour frontbench as the Shadow Environment Secretary on September 14 following Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise election as Labour leader

Mr Corbyn also appointed John McDonnell — who is a vocal supporter of the Campaign for an Air Pollution Public Inquiry — as Shadow Chancellor, while the Labour Deputy Leadership election was won by Tom Watson, who in July launched a petition calling for a new Clean Air Act.

Ms McCarthy’s criticism of the government follows comments made by Barry Gardiner MP, Labour’s Shadow Environment Minister, earlier this month regarding the government’s draft new UK air quality plan, which slammed for being “hollow” and “passing the buck” (see story).

Environment Secretary Liz Truss MP said upon the launch of the new air quality plan consultation that tackling air pollution “is a priority for this government” and that she wanted to “make the UK a country with some of the best air quality in the world”.


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