The Tory government just made a mockery of a second Brexit-related promise

Boris Johnson
Tracy Keeling

The UK has barely left the EU and already the Tory government has effectively backtracked on two promises it made in relation to Brexit.

Never Bee-lieve a Tory government

First, it authorised the use of neonicotinoids in England within days of leaving the bloc. There’s an EU-wide ban on the pesticides, with a mechanism for “emergency authorisations” for their use in limited circumstances. In 2017, then environment secretary Michael Gove promised that:

Unless the evidence base changes again, the government will keep these restrictions in place after we have left the EU.

The UK’s greenlighting of the pesticide caused a hefty public backlash because neonicotinoids are harmful to bees and other pollinators. So the move risks endangering insects in the country, who – to quote Gove – play “such a key part” in the UK’s food system.

Nonetheless, the Conservative government has authorised the use of neonicotinoid thiamethoxam on sugar beet crops in 2021, after lobbying from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and British Sugar. It’s approved the pesticide’s use through an “emergency authorisation. The approval was granted “in recognition of the potential danger posed to the 2021 crop from beet yellows virus”.

As the EU also allows for such exceptional approvals, the UK move isn’t a total break with the bloc’s norms. But the optics are dire, given it did so within days of leaving the union. Of course, it’s pollinators who will truly bear the brunt of the fatal decision.

“Absolutely frightening”

It’s also taking this action at the very moment when, according to scientists, insect populations are facing “death by a thousand cuts”. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal recently published a collection of studies from scientists on the subject. As the Guardian reported, the experts have documented the “multiple, overlapping threats” faced by insect populations, including “the destruction of wild habitats for farming, urbanisation, pesticides and light pollution”.

University of Connecticut professor David Wagner, who was the lead author of the analysis, said that many insect populations are seeing drops of 1-2% a year. He put this into sobering perspective:

You’re losing 10-20% of your animals over a single decade and that is just absolutely frightening. You’re tearing apart the tapestry of life.

Dumping on the world, Tory-style

A few days after its bee-killing shenanigans, another Brexit surprise came to light. The EU banned the export of unsorted, non-recyclable plastic waste to non-OECD countries from 1 January. The OECD is a 37-member intergovernmental economic organisation made of wealthier countries. Britain, however, is not following suit.

Instead, the UK has introduced a system of “prior informed consent”, the Guardian reported, whereby “the importer has to agree to accept the waste, and has the opportunity to refuse it”. Commenting on the revelation, director of the Basel Action Network Jim Puckett said:

We had assumed the UK would at least follow the EU, and so it is a shock to find out now that instead they choose to have a far weaker control procedure, which can still permit exports of contaminated and difficult-to-recycle plastics to developing countries.

As a 2020 report revealed, the UK is the world’s second biggest generator of plastic waste per capita. Meanwhile, analysis from Greenpeace’s Unearthed has previously shown that the country exports vast amounts of waste to non-OECD countries, which typically are less equipped to sustainably deal with non-recyclable and unsorted waste. In the first seven months of 2020, for example, the UK exported 64,786 tonnes of plastic waste to non-OECD countries.

The Conservative government has previously pledged to ban exports of plastic waste to non-OECD countries. After its ‘prior informed consent’ system came to light, a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) reiterated this pledge but gave no timetable for action.

Assume the worst

The UK’s first few days outside the EU have shown people like Puckett that it’s not safe to ‘assume’ that the UK will follow the EU in terms of environmental standards. Making that assumption is, of course, understandable because that’s what the Conservative government has regularly promised in the lead up to Brexit. But as leaks have shown, the government has long seen “room for interpretation” on such standards, which it says will result in “very different” interpretations of commitments between the EU and the UK.

In short, it’s probably best to assume the worst. Opting to poison bees and keep dumping waste on poorer countries is undoubtedly just the start of atrocious things to come.

Featured image via the Telegraph / YouTube

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  • Show Comments
    1. Re: sugar beet
      “In the UK we use over 100,000 hectares of prime agriculture land to grow a product we really need to eat less of: sugar. British Sugar, the monopoly company controlling the UK sugar beet industry refines around 7.6 million tonnes of sugar beet grown on English soils every year, turning it into over a million tonnes of refined sugar. And they have plans to expand, with a goal to increase production by 50%.” (https://feedbackglobal.org/the-dark-truth-about-sugar-beet/)
      So, Tories and (or is that incahoots with) Tate&Lyle kill bees for both profit and continuing public health nightmare (no not CV19 – diabetes)?
      Tory Gove lies again? Gawd bless the British electorate and our wonderful unfit for purpose Electoral System. Not heard anything from Charlie; I wonder why.
      One final set of quote from article:
      “Consider the fact that it takes between 200 and 400 years to form 1cm of topsoil, and that soil is a resource at the very heart of our agricultural production. … We’ve calculated that the sugar beet harvest caused an average soil loss of around 489,000 tonnes a year in the period 2014-2018. … If we shrunk the area of land used to grow sugar beet by 40%, around the decrease needed to produce just enough sugar to meet our recommended daily allowance, we calculated that we could be growing 150,000 tonnes of peas, 3.1 million tonnes of carrots or 1.8 million tonnes of potatoes.” (https://feedbackglobal.org/the-dark-truth-about-sugar-beet/)
      I recommend the reading of the complete article as sugar beet and British Sugar (a great British monopoly) appear to have a significant influence on the health of the nation. Let’s wave the flag for diabetes!

      1. The ignorance by these moneyed minds of what bees do for us is truly a disaster.
        They couldn’t care less about the natural world unless it turned a profit for them ansd especially if no imagination was required here to adapt by not using bee posion. Philosophy is not to adapt or take ressponsibility for our actions.

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