Theresa May announced earlier today at the London Wetland Centre her 25 Year Plan for the environment. The plan aimed to curb the use of plastic in order to protect the environment for the future, which she asserted as a key facet of Conservatism. In a speech which pundits are already claiming is too little, too late – and which credited Sir David Attenborough’s BBC series that showed the true extent of the plastic problem as an incentive for the changes – May set out the government’s plans.
In the speech, Theresa May took credit for extending the successful environmental policy of charging 5p for a plastic carrier bag to all shops nationwide, not just the larger supermarkets. The initial policy has meant that since its October 2015 inception, there have been 9 billion fewer plastic bags used.
Despite Theresa May taking significant credit for the results of the policy, the binding reduction targets that the policy is based on, and the mandatory charges for plastic bags, are actually guidelines from the EU under the Plastic Carrier Bag Directive. Not only that, the Conservative government and MEPs voted against the policy.
Furthermore, the Tories also lobbied against the initial charges of plastic bags, arguing, wrongly, that the policies wouldn’t achieve ecological targets and would cost the taxpayer £1.5billion plus £70million in additional VAT.
The article, from September 2015 also named ex-Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as the forerunner of the policy in the UK. A statement from the Liberal Democrats also claims that the party fought “tooth and nail” against the Conservatives in order to have the policy even looked at. So, not only have the Tories just taken credit for a policy developed by the EU, it’s also a policy that they actively opposed.
May claimed that the UK will demonstrate “global leadership” in terms of mitigating against the plastic scourge that has resulted in the world’s oceans being more plastic than plankton. Yet, France has already called for a ban on plastic plates, cups, and cutlery (a ‘picnic tax’) and has had plastic bags banned outright since July 2016. Denmark and Australia already implement schemes that give consumers cash for plastic bottles they return to the supermarket, a scheme Environment Secretary Michael Gove claimed he would want to launch in the UK.
Elsewhere, Scotland has already submitted plans to ban single-use plastic in the form of cotton buds, and MSP Kate Forbes (SNP) has launched The Final Straw campaign to ban single-use plastic straws.
May also claimed that the UK was a world-leader in the manufacturing of electric vehicles, which, while it may not be untrue, it falls behind China, the US, Japan, Norway, and the Netherlands. Plastic-free aisles were also an initiative suggested by the PM, after successful lobbying by grassroots campaigners, A Plastic Planet.
Of the carrier bag incentive, Labour European Parliament spokesperson, MEP Seb Dance stated:
It is just another example of the EU single market delivering environmental benefits for the UK, which the government’s Hard Brexit policy threatens to undermine.
Indeed, without the binding of the pro-environmental policies the EU has in place, there is nothing that May has to enforce. Of Brexit, the PM urged in her speech that it would not result in a lowering of environmental standards.
Indeed, as a result of the £20bn Britain will no longer contribute to the EU, member states will be faced with a ‘plastic tax’ to plug in the gap Britain’s contribution would have covered.
So, while she may have taken credit for a policy her government fought to water down and block, Britain’s exit from the EU may do some good, by replacing our contribution with money raised through the lessening of environmentally-harmful plastic that other countries, that don’t have to pronounce themselves global leaders are already working towards.
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