Keith Taylor MEP: what I’ve been working on over the last 2+ months

Keith Taylor MEP: what I’ve been working on over the last 2+ months

February 24th, 2018

EU Referendum: After the Vote

Brexit Negotiations

The 15 December 2017 Council meeting decided there had been sufficient progress made in the three priority areas: financial liability, citizens’ rights and the Irish border. I believe it was at that point Theresa May’s grip on the premiership was at its weakest – had the decision been different it could well have resulted in a general election.

With that decision, Juncker threw May a lifeline in an overtly political move to save the Conservative government from collapse, perhaps on the basis that the EU could secure a better deal for itself over Brexit with a weak and divided UK than with a new and unknown one. While the joint EU/UK report was, in essence a fudge, some progress had been made on the financial settlement, but many citizens’ rights issues remain unsolved.

For me, crucially, the report also talks about an “intention” to protect Irish North-South cooperation and to avoid a hard border between the two – and if this is impossible through an overall EU-UK relationship, then through full alignment with those Single Market & Customs Union (SMCU) rules which support North-South cooperation. What this means in effect is that the UK position is saying we will leave the SMCU (which inevitably means that there will be a hard border, which is unacceptable to the Irish government and therefore the EU27) or that there will be full alignment with the Customs Union/Single Market (which is unacceptable to the DUP, on whose support the Conservatives depend).

I do not recognise that intent as either achievable or sufficient and therefore I didn’t support the latest European Parliament resolution on the “State of play of negotiations with the United Kingdom”; I abstained. The resolution was adopted on 13 December 2017 by a large majority – 556 in favour, 62 against, and 68 abstentions - and can be accessed here.

At least the second phase of discussions will enable development of legal texts for the Withdrawal Agreement and the details that would require (always assuming the UK has decided what it wants). We are approaching a very real time of decision-making. There is still much widespread ignorance over the risks of Brexit. Risks to employment and investment, to manufacturing and transport, to our environment and social rights. Now is the time for leadership. Realists and progressives alike must occupy and reset the national narrative.

Meanwhile, the leaked Government Brexit impact study confirmed that under every possible post-Brexit scenario, the Government has calculated that the UK will be worse off, in the long and short-term. The most-damaging revelation for the swivel-eyed Brextremists in Theresa May’s divided cabinet is that the ‘no deal’ Brexit the Tories are blindly driving Britain towards is the most economically ruinous of all. My reaction to the leaked study can be read here.

As previously stated, the European Parliament does have a limited role in the negotiations. It is not involved directly in the negotiations, although the Brexit steering group does feed in and comment on negotiations. In addition, the EP holds the power of a consent vote.

Brexit and Animals

I am currently working with fellow Parliamentarians to ensure that the next European Parliament resolution, setting out the basis of what it would want in any agreement with the UK, pays regard to animal welfare.

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill, Agriculture Bill, Customs Bill and Trade Bill, the legislative tools the UK Government is attempting to force through the Commons in support of its vision of a hard Brexit, will all have an impact on animal welfare standards in Britain.

I’ve commented before on the wholly inadequate 'Repeal Bill', which is meant to convert existing EU rules into UK law. I am still hugely concerned about its terrifyingly anti-democratic proposals - the so-called ‘Henry the Eighth’ clauses - to give the Conservative Government the power to change UK laws without any Parliamentary scrutiny, and about the Government’s failure to transpose into UK law the key general environmental principles that are enshrined in the EU treaties, such as the precautionary principle and the “polluter pays” principle.

At the end of last year, I wrote to Environment Secretary Michael Gove about the principle of animal sentience - the recognition that animals feel pain and experience stress - and my colleague Caroline Lucas MP tabled an amendment to the Bill, which gained cross-party support, to ensure this important recognition would be included. Disappointingly, the amendment was rejected after every Conservative and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP voted against it.

However, following a high profile backlash and a PR disaster which saw Ministers and Tory MPs scrambling to justify their vote against Caroline’s amendment by claiming the provision already existed in UK law - it doesn’t - we saw the Government embark on a hugely humiliating U-Turn. The subsequent draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill, announced on 12 December 2017, is now progressing through Parliament. The bill states that the Government will have to consider animal sentience in the future when they draw up new laws.

The U-turn was a big victory for campaigners and Greens and a big climbdown from the Government. But there is a real risk that there will be a gap in legal protection for animals as there is no guarantee that the new animal welfare bill will reach the statute book before Brexit becomes effective. The draft animal sentience Bill is already being opposed by industry groups and, just this month, a report was published by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Commons Select Committee suggesting that the commitment to paying regard to animal sentience in the Bill should be delayed.

I have signed a recent Compassion in World Farming petition to protect the Draft Animal Sentience Bill. Please join me and fellow Greens, alongside animal protection groups, in making our voice heard and let Michael Gove know that the ability of animals to feel pain and joy must not be ignored.

On 12 February, I held a talk at Cambridge University, organised by Cambridge Young Greens, looking at what the EU has done for animals in the UK and across Europe, and met Green Councillor Oscar Gillespie to talk about ways to prevent animal welfare standards from falling post-Brexit. I also raised my animal welfare concerns with the Cambridge Independent.

This week, I reiterated my concerns about animals and Brexit as the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee’s report on the Brexit impacts on the trade in food confirmed what we already know: one of the greatest threats to animal welfare post-Brexit is the Government’s desperate rush to sign up to a raft of toxic free trade deals that signal a race to the bottom on animal welfare standards and/or put British farmers out of business en masse.

I have also just finished work on a new publication on animal protection and exiting the EU. You can read more about it in the Animal Welfare section of this report (page 7).

Brexit and Health

Last week, I visited the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Cambridge Institute to learn more about the impact of Brexit on biomedical research and access to vital cancer drugs. I met with Greg Hannon, the new director of the CRUK Cambridge Institute, who outlined his concerns about the impact any form of Brexit will have on not only CRUK’s Cambridge Institute, one of Europe’s largest cancer research facilities, but on the UK’s research community as a whole.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Professor Hannon raised his fears about, among other things, the future of the £10m in EU funding the CRUK Cambridge Institute receives; CRUK’s ability to attract charitable donations in light of the economic impacts of Brexit; the ability to attract talented EU nationals, who make up more than a fifth of the Institute’s staff; the loss of access to collaborative networks across Europe, and; the UK’s departure from the European Medicines Agency, which will see patients in the UK suffer significant delays in receiving vital new cancer drugs.

Earlier this year, I raised the issue of the UK Government’s insistence on leaving EURATOM, which the Royal College of Radiologists, the British Nuclear Medicine Society, and the British Medical Association have argued presents a real threat to the uninterrupted, cross-border supply of the medical isotopes that an estimated 1 million cancer patients in the UK already rely on every year. I sent a letter to Greg Clark together with my Green MEP colleague Jean Lambert, highlighting these warnings, and raised them again during my meeting with Mr Hannon.

Brexit and Human Rights

Earlier this year, I lent my signature to a letter calling on the UK Government to protect the vital EU Charter of Fundamental Rights post-Brexit. The letter stresses that MEPs will be closely involved in discussions over the future relationship between the UK and the EU, and that they will push to ensure that any future agreement protects human rights as set out in the Charter. This will also be taken into consideration when MEPs come to vote on the final withdrawal agreement. The letter builds on campaigns by organisations such as Liberty and Amnesty International, who have expressed concerns about the Government’s decision not to retain the Charter in UK law. It also follows an open letter, signed by more than 20 organisations and human rights legal experts, urging the Government to ensure that the Charter’s protections are retained after Brexit.

Green Guarantees

An updated copy of my ‘Brexit: Green Guarantees leaflet can be downloaded here.

Transport

Transport Committee (TRAN)

Transport Accessibility

The Accessibility Act report I’ve been reporting on has now entered trilogue stage, where the three EU institutions - the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council - are negotiating agreement on the final legislation. As rapporteur for the Transport Committee (TRAN) opinion, it is my top priority to ensure that the mandatory requirement that all transport building projects must be designed to be easily used by people with limited mobility or sensual impairment is retained. Negotiations will be ongoing for the next 6 months, and I will do everything in my power to negotiate a far-reaching final legislation that will have a positive impact on the lives of the 80 million people with reduced mobility throughout the EU.

Transport and Climate Change

My amendments to TRAN’s opinion on the International Ocean Governance file , which are pushing for stricter enforcement of shipping emissions regulations, were debated in September and most of my suggestions were adopted in the Committee vote. The report was voted on in plenary in January with a good overall outcome.

Mobility Package

As shadow rapporteur for a legislative proposal on driving and rest times for lorry drivers in the EU, I am working to improve road safety and working conditions for drivers. As studies on road safety found, the main reason behind commercial truck crashes are overworked and fatigued drivers. That is why I am demanding that the maximum driving hours for lorry drivers should be reduced by one hour a day, and that the daily rest times drivers are required to take shall be increased by 15 minutes to amount to a full hour or two half hours a day. This would take the pressure off drivers, who often suffer from fatigue due to working extremely long hours and, as a result, put themselves and other people in danger. Too little rest can lead to a lack of concentration or cause drivers to fall asleep behind the wheel due to exhaustion. In addition, I oppose the option for drivers to take their weekly rest inside the vehicle, as I believe they should stay in adequate accommodation in order to properly recuperate. Therefore, I am promoting better overall working conditions for drivers in order to enhance their wellbeing and concentration, which would, in turn, lead to improved road safety by reducing the number of fatigue-induced accidents. The report will be voted in committee in May this year and is scheduled to be voted in plenary in July.

In The Constituency…

Letter to Chris Grayling on the ‘State of Transport 2018’

I have written to the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, to urge a ‘sea change’ in the Government’s ‘outdated’ and ‘climate-destructive’ infrastructure agenda as the UK’s official statistics reveal transport emissions are continuing to grow. Transport has become the largest greenhouse gas emitting sector in the UK, according to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s latest report. The letter addresses my concerns on a wide range of transport issues, including airport expansion and aviation, roadbuilding, air pollution, rail and electric vehicles.

Road Expansion & Sustainable Mobility

Further to a new report by the National Audit Office which slammed Govia Thameslink for ‘not providing good value for money,’ I put the case for bringing our railways back into public ownership starting with Southern.

Further to Highways England’s public consultation on its plans for the A27, with campaign groups I plan on responding to the National Infrastructure Commission National Infrastructure Assessment. I am now working with campaigners on viable alternative transport models for Sussex and the south coast with the South Coast Alliance for Transport and Environment.

I continue to back Network Rail’s proposals for an East-West rail link. In my response to the Phase Three consultation stage of the project, I reiterated my support for the project’s plans to re-establish rail links between Oxfordshire and East Anglia and the wider rail network. I also repeated my call for the route to be electrified.

I am convinced that the East-West rail link should be built instead of, not as well as the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway. In January, I wrote to the Chief Executive of Highways England criticising the lack of a public consultation on the proposed route of the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway. In my letter I outline why I believe the Expressway contravenes the international Aarhus convention. The convention, to which the UK as a member of the EU is signed up, requires signatories to ensure there is meaningful public participation in major decisions which impact upon the environment.

Airport Expansion & Aviation

Once again, I called on the Government to give up on their disastrous plans for Heathrow expansion, as the revised Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) consultation closed in December. Along with my Green MEP colleague from London, Jean Lambert, we set out the reasons why the proposed plans would be an environmental disaster and questioned the economic case for airport expansion in the South East of England and beyond. I have argued that the Government’s own air quality analysis must rule out a third runway at Heathrow. Aviation is a top ten global polluter and emissions from the heavily subsidised industry are set to balloon by 300% if action is not taken sooner rather than later. Not accounting for any airport expansion, emissions from aviation are already expected to use up more than two-thirds of the UK’s carbon budget by 2050. At the same time, the Government’s so-called ‘Clean’ Growth Strategy revealed that the UK is already set to miss its legally-binding carbon targets under the Climate Change Act. Again, without building any new runways.

I welcomed a report from another Green MEP, Bas Eickhout, which will pave the way for future legislation and has recommended a tax on aviation fuel; the removal of VAT exemption on air passenger tickets and the phasing out of CO2 emitting cars, amongst a wide range of proposals.

Last Friday, I wrote to RiverOak Strategic Partners to object in the strongest way possible to their application for a Development Consent Order (DCO) to reopen the Manston Airport site as a freight airport. I am convinced that particulate pollution from the proposed freight hub would seriously endanger the health and wellbeing of local communities in the surrounding towns and villages, including Minster, Manston, Margate and Ramsgate, and would exacerbate the UK’s air pollution crisis in general. I was astonished at the company’s ignorance of the issue and oppose the plans on environmental, social and economic grounds. Instead of reopening the Manston Airport site as a cargo hub, there is plenty of scope for an alternative vision of the future in Thanet, based around sectors such as leisure, agriculture and green energy, something the Council should lead the way in promoting.

Animal Welfare

New report: ‘Animal Protection and Exiting the EU’

I have launched a new report looking at the impact of Brexit on animal welfare in the UK. It assesses impacts on everything from veterinary medicine to farmed animal welfare. Almost 80% of the animal welfare protections Britain’s animals enjoy are derived from our membership of the EU. In fact, it is one of the few areas where the UK has actively engaged and helped drive positive action to improve the lives of millions of animals across Europe. By leaving the European Union, we not only forgo our influence and ability to protect animals across the continent, we lose a number of vital protections for which we have fought so hard. Copies will be distributed at my stall at the GPEW conference on 3-4 March.

ENVI committee

Work urgently needs to be done to address the growing illegal trade in companion animals in the European Union. This market is so frequently unregulated, which puts the animals’ welfare at risk and offers no protection to buyers who don’t know that their future pet is being sold to them illegally. I have been working on bringing an Oral Question to the European Commission, calling on them to implement strong plans to protect animals and their owners within the context of the EU’s new digital agenda.

I welcomed the news that Defra is calling for evidence as the Government considers a ban on third-party puppy sales. The Green Party has been lobbying the Government for years on this issue as a properly implemented ban is vital in the fight to put an end to the inhumane and cruel puppy farming industry. We will remain vigilant to ensure action follows words.

Intergroup for the Welfare and Conservation of Animals
As Vice-Chair of this intergroup, I have been involved in the work to set up a parliamentary enquiry committee on animal transport. As well as highlighting the barbarity of this practice, I have been stressing to fellow MEPs the strong support from EU citizens for much higher welfare conditions during live animal transport.

Sadly, most member states are just not implementing the correct, legally required, measures that aim to ensure live export journeys are correctly planned and carried out in line with animal welfare requirements to prevent causing unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to the animals. It’s now up to us in the European Parliament to make sure trade between countries in the EU and other countries is consistent with EU legal requirements and for us to seize the opportunity to greatly improve the conditions surrounding the trade in animals.

A proposal for inquiry committee will soon be submitted to the parliament and MEPs will have a chance to vote in plenary on the establishment of this committee - something that cannot come too soon!

In September, I am also hosting an event with some of my Green MEP colleagues from France, Austria and Germany to call for stricter laws in animal transports and to raise awareness of the increasingly industrial European milk and meat production system.

Pig Welfare Working Group

Myself and several cross-party colleagues are working to tackle the unnecessary pain caused to pigs, such as the routine tail-docking and surgical castration practiced on farms across the EU as a misguided panacea for the terrible conditions in which these pigs are often raised.

We have been hounding the Commission to ensure better enforcement of the laws intended to protect pigs and have succeeded in securing a pilot project worth EUR 600 000 to improve market conditions for pig meat obtained from pigs that have not been surgically castrated.

The Commission is also now implementing a work plan, where Member States are asked to provide action plans on how they will ensure better compliance with the law - specifically the avoidance of routine tail-docking - by the end of 2018. Our group won’t rest until we see significant improvements to the lives of these wonderful, intelligent creatures.

Ivory

You may recall that an ambitious resolution I helped draft, calling for an immediate and full EU-wide ban on the trade in ivory, was voted on by the European Parliament’s Environment committee in autumn 2016, and I was delighted to see it adopted by an overwhelming majority of MEPs during a plenary voting session in Strasbourg in November that year. The resolution also calls for common sanctions at EU level against wildlife trafficking, which is worth an estimated €20 billion annually.

In a response to Defra’s consultation on plans to restrict the ivory trade in Britain, I have called on the UK Government to implement a full and comprehensive ivory trade ban, without exemptions.

I called for the ban to be implemented before London hosts the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in October this year. I have also sent an official submission to the EU consultation on a Europe-wide ban on the ivory trade.

Badger cull

I criticised the Government’s plans to extend the ‘scientifically illiterate, ineffective and downright cruel’ badger cull to areas where farmed animals are at a low risk of catching the disease. The Government has also launched a ‘review’ of its bovine TB control strategy, which refuses to reassess Defra’s badger cull policy.

Animal testing

I strongly condemned and was horrified at the news that the firms behind Dieselgate have been allegedly forcing human and primate subjects to inhale toxic diesel fumes. That primates and humans have allegedly been forced to inhale the diesel fumes several scientific studies have already proven to be toxic is beyond belief, not to say extremely cruel and unnecessary.

Making Tracks

The Spring/Summer 2018 edition of the UK Green MEPs’ animal protection newsletter Making Tracks is fresh off the printers. Print copies will be available at the MEP stall during the GPEW Spring conference in Bournemouth. You can also contact my London office to order copies. This issue’s articles focus on Brexit and animal welfare, ivory trade, animal sentience, cosmetics animal testing, neonics, pulse fishing and the EU wild bird ban.

Air Quality

Holding the Government to Account

This week, I welcomed the news that ClientEarth has won its latest case against the Government over its air pollution failures and ‘shabby rewrite’ of its inadequate air quality plan. The Government still won’t learn its lesson. It should finally take the urgent action necessary to address a public health emergency linked to the deaths of 50,000 British citizens every year, instead of prioritising throwing taxpayers’ cash away fighting in the courts against taking even the most basic action needed to bring our air within EU air pollution limits.

Air pollution and Health

Last month, I slammed the Government’s ‘dereliction’ of duty as the European Commission summoned the UK for its repeated air pollution failures. The UK is one of nine EU member states to have been summoned by the Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella for talks over their failures to comply with EU NO2 pollution limits. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, Michael Gove dodged the summons and sent a junior minister in his place. Further to a planning application being submitted in Newhaven, East Sussex, for another incinerator, I voiced my concerns about the cumulative effect of poor air quality being made worse in the town. Shortly after, I wrote to East Sussex County Council to object to the Brett Aggregates application to open a concrete factory in Newhaven. In my letter regarding the planning application, I raised a series of objections including the application process in general, air quality, amenity impacts, current infrastructure, biodiversity, environmental considerations, the setting of the South Downs National Park, Public Right of Way and economic development.

I responded to the news that Defra has published its scientific report into the Birling Gap ‘chemical haze’ incident in East Sussex in August 2017, criticising that it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know; we still don’t have any real answers on what the gas was or from where it came. At the very least, the Government should be able to offer residents an assurance that this won’t happen again (as it did in Seaford, just a month after Birling Gap), but, with no firm answers, it’s clear that it can’t. On behalf of the health and well-being of my constituents, and with the help of the EU institutions, I will continue my pursuit of answers and assurances. My letters to Defra and the European Commission on this matter can be found here.

Energy

GPEW Spring Conference panel discussion: ‘Brexit and Energy: Which Way Forward?’

Saturday 3 March, 18.00-19.15, Bournemouth International Centre On 3 March, I’ll be chairing a panel debate, co-hosted by the Green Party and the Green UK MEPs, which will explore the future of UK energy policy in view of the huge threat posed by Brexit to the sector as a whole. With the past three years having been the hottest on record and the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°c due this year, the UK needs to urgently demonstrate its commitment to a sustainable energy future. Speakers will explore the potential impact of Brexit on energy security, unconventional oil and gas extraction as well as renewable and community energy, examining possible changes to legislation. It will also look at how leaving the EU could affect UK nuclear safety standards and future collaboration with Europe. The event will feature keynote speeches from expert panellists followed by Q&A.

This panel debate is part of the Green Party Spring Conference, 3-4 March, and is open to the public. If you wish to attend, please arrive 30 mins before the start time and sign in at the registration desk.

Renewable Energy and Climate Change

Last week, I visited a community energy project in Milton Keynes. Back in 2015, I visited Milton Keynes to launch my 'Taking Back the Power' report on Community Energy. On this visit, I met with Jane Grindey of Wolverton Community Energy alongside Tim Davies, Executive Director at Camphill Communities in Willen Park, where solar PV panels have since been installed.

Whilst the project has been a success, Wolverton Community Energy is facing challenges due to the reduction in Government support for uptake of renewables. It was wonderful to see all that Wolverton Community Energy has achieved in the last 3 years and I am encouraged that renewable energy is helping to serve the wonderful Camphill Communities in Milton Keynes. But we need to see more, not less investment and support from the Government if such community-led initiatives are to succeed. Whilst they continue to support fracking, offer huge subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, and back the Big 6, the prospect of a truly renewable energy future continues to look shaky.

I have reiterated my support for the extension of Thanet Offshore Wind Farm, which could more than double the generating capacity of the existing site and produce up to 340 MW. Britain must urgently improve its renewable energy performance and I consider investment in offshore wind an important part in reducing carbon emissions and meeting our climate change targets. I hope that the extension will receive approval and will serve as an example and inspiration for other green energy projects throughout the UK.

Oil and gas extraction

Following a damning report from NASA, which revealed the fossil fuel industry is driving the rise in global methane emissions, I called on Theresa May to assure us that fracking would have no place in a 25-year environment plan for Britain.

I objected very strongly to Cuadrilla’s new planning application at Balcombe and called on West Sussex County Councillors to heed the overwhelming calls from their constituents to block the fracking firm. My disappointment to the consented application was only made worse with Cuadrilla then selling the operation of its Balcombe drilling licence to Angus Energy. Angus Energy is currently locked in a long-running planning dispute with Surrey County Council after the firm drilled a side-track well without permission at their Brockham drill site in Dorking.

I criticised UKOG’s plans to submit a planning application for oil production at the Horse Hill exploration site near Gatwick Airport. The government-backed unconventional oil and gas rush across the UK will not only despoil Surrey’s Outstanding Area of Natural Beauty it will ensure the UK fails to meet its legally-binding climate change targets under the Climate Change Act and Paris Agreement.

At the end of January, I paid a visit to the Isle of Wight to campaign against ‘climate-destructive’ oil drilling on the Island. I met local residents at a proposed drilling site at Brook Beach, alongside local campaigner and Councillor Daniel James. Later that day, I hosted a public meeting on the alternatives to oil and gas drilling and the importance of renewable energy investment on the Isle of Wight. Only a week and a half later, UKOG ended its pursuit of offshore oil exploration near Compton on the Isle of Wight but announced its intention to start onshore drilling in Arreton. I will stand by the local campaigners and residents who will be fighting to protect their environment, their communities and the planet by opposing UKOG’s plans tooth and nail.

Earlier this month, I expressed my dismay at the Government’s proposal to let the national level overrule local democracy on fracking. This was in response to the news that the Communities and Local Government Select Committee is seeking submissions on whether planning applications for fracking in England should be decided by a government minister, rather than local councils. The Government is making a total sham of any pretence of localism.

Also in February, I reiterated my opposition to the Traffic Management Plan for Leith Hill. The Traffic Management Plan was updated after a decision on a previous version was deferred by Surrey County Council — with councillors raising serious concerns about the operating firm Europa Oil and Gas’s conduct. In my submission to the consultation, I raised concerns about the air quality impacts of the traffic proposals, the environmental impact on the historic sunken Coldharbour Lane, the danger posed to cyclists and other vulnerable road users, the categorisation of peaceful protest as ‘force majeure’, and the lack of meaningful consultation with local residents.

I have responded to an Environment Agency report outlining that fracking poses a risk to water quality and resources, confirming what I suspected all along.

On Valentine’s Day, I sent a message of support to anti-drilling campaigner Pete Whittick as he went before the courts in Brighton. Dr Whittick was arrested while allegedly resisting the movement of rigging from the Brockham drill site, which was set to be used to support the oil drilling operation at Lidsey, near Bognor Regis. Locals organised a ‘#Valentines2Earth‘ protest in support of Pete Whittick outside the Law Courts in Brighton.

Another area I have been concerned about is what discussions oil and gas companies are having to consult local communities about sites being developed across the South East. I launched a survey last December that found that more than three-quarters of residents quizzed about oil and gas drilling operations in their communities said they were not consulted by the firm responsible before a planning application was submitted, despite the industry body’s ‘Community Charter‘ stressing the importance of public engagement. The full results can be found here. In addition, I wrote to Energy Secretary Greg Clark about the failure of oil and gas companies to engage with affected communities.

Incinerators in Surrey Waste Plan

I also wrote to Surrey County Council to object in the strongest terms to plans for three to six incinerators in the Surrey Waste Plan - all of which are in the Green Belt. Incineration is a major contributor to carbon emissions, even when it’s used to produce energy, and distracts from recycling and reuse efforts.

In Other News

LGBTI Intergroup & constituency support

I continue to voice my support of LGBT rights as human rights through my position on the European Parliament LGBT Rights Intergroup, often through co-signing cross-party initiatives. A recent such example was a letter sent on behalf of the Socialists and Democrats’ Spanish Delegation - which i co-signed - protesting the elected appointment of a homophobic and sexist Spanish judge to the European Court of Human Rights. An official copy of the letter will be available to read online in due time.

I received a letter from a constituent in January 2018 regarding the transphobic remarks made by backbench Conservative MP David TC Davies, following new NHS’ guidelines for health screenings for trans people. In my response, I was proud to reiterate the pro-trans and gender-inclusive values enshrined in Green Party of England and Wales and Greens/EFA LGBTIQA+ policy.

Delegation to Palestine

Relations between Israel and Palestine continue to become ever more fraught as Donald Trump and his unstoppable tweeting complicate an already fragile situation. On 7th December, I took part in a well-attended public panel debate alongside journalist David Cronin, where we discussed the relations between the EU and Israel and, more particularly, the impact of Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Brussels was fortunate enough to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday 11th December, who received invitation from the Lithuanian Foreign Minister to attend a meeting of foreign ministers from each EU Member State. In response, I co-signed two letters in protest of his visit to HR/VP Mogherini: the first, a cross-party MEP initiative; the second, sent on behalf of DPAL.

On 6th February, I organised and co-hosted an open meeting in the European Parliament in Strasbourg alongside my Green colleague and Vice-Chair of DPAL, Margrete Auken, with Matthias Burchard, Director of UNRWA* EU, to discuss funding to the charity in light of Trump’s decision to slash the US’ annual aid contribution from $125 to $65 million dollars (*The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Middle East). UNRWA have launched #DignityIsPriceless, a donation campaign, to which I contributed from my personal funds. In addition, I co-signed a written question by Miguel Viegas MEP (GUE/NGL) to the European Commission regarding UNRWA and what the EU can do to step up its contribution.

Revealed: The ‘hunger crisis’ across the South East

In my Hungry Christmas paper on foodbank dependency across the South East, I reported that Conservative ministers have overseen at least a 20% rise in foodbank use in my area alone in the last 4 years – with over 110,000 food parcels handed out this year. At the centre of this crisis is one fact: poverty is political. And its elimination has to be our top priority.

Plastic carrier bag charge

I welcomed the extension of the plastic carrier bag charge in England, reminding Theresa May that the Tories were obliged to bring the charge in to fulfil an EU Directive on plastic pollution that was designed by the Greens in the European Parliament. This was in response to the launch of the Government’s long-delayed and otherwise disappointing 25 Year Environment Plan.

NHS

I criticised Theresa May’s decision to promote Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary responsible for pushing our NHS into a deadly and unprecedented crisis. Despite the PM’s reported plans to shift Hunt away from the Department of Health, he refused to shift and even convinced May to expand his portfolio. Hunt’s time as Health Secretary has been an abject failure. But the Conservative government still believes he is doing a good job – and, as much as his failures, that fact should terrify us all.

Last month, I was appalled to learn that the Government is officially backing the controversial Naylor proposals for a big NHS property sell-off. With the heat off the crisis in our NHS, and a media focus on the Brexit impact studies scandal, the Conservative government took the opportunity to bury some pretty significant bad news for our national health service.

Keith Taylor MEP: what I’ve been working on over the last 2+ months

Keith Taylor MEP: what I’ve been working on over the last 2+ months

February 24th, 2018

EU Referendum: After the Vote

Brexit Negotiations

The 15 December 2017 Council meeting decided there had been sufficient progress made in the three priority areas: financial liability, citizens’ rights and the Irish border. I believe it was at that point Theresa May’s grip on the premiership was at its weakest – had the decision been different it could well have resulted in a general election.

With that decision, Juncker threw May a lifeline in an overtly political move to save the Conservative government from collapse, perhaps on the basis that the EU could secure a better deal for itself over Brexit with a weak and divided UK than with a new and unknown one. While the joint EU/UK report was, in essence a fudge, some progress had been made on the financial settlement, but many citizens’ rights issues remain unsolved.

For me, crucially, the report also talks about an “intention” to protect Irish North-South cooperation and to avoid a hard border between the two – and if this is impossible through an overall EU-UK relationship, then through full alignment with those Single Market & Customs Union (SMCU) rules which support North-South cooperation. What this means in effect is that the UK position is saying we will leave the SMCU (which inevitably means that there will be a hard border, which is unacceptable to the Irish government and therefore the EU27) or that there will be full alignment with the Customs Union/Single Market (which is unacceptable to the DUP, on whose support the Conservatives depend).

I do not recognise that intent as either achievable or sufficient and therefore I didn’t support the latest European Parliament resolution on the “State of play of negotiations with the United Kingdom”; I abstained. The resolution was adopted on 13 December 2017 by a large majority – 556 in favour, 62 against, and 68 abstentions - and can be accessed here.

At least the second phase of discussions will enable development of legal texts for the Withdrawal Agreement and the details that would require (always assuming the UK has decided what it wants). We are approaching a very real time of decision-making. There is still much widespread ignorance over the risks of Brexit. Risks to employment and investment, to manufacturing and transport, to our environment and social rights. Now is the time for leadership. Realists and progressives alike must occupy and reset the national narrative.

Meanwhile, the leaked Government Brexit impact study confirmed that under every possible post-Brexit scenario, the Government has calculated that the UK will be worse off, in the long and short-term. The most-damaging revelation for the swivel-eyed Brextremists in Theresa May’s divided cabinet is that the ‘no deal’ Brexit the Tories are blindly driving Britain towards is the most economically ruinous of all. My reaction to the leaked study can be read here.

As previously stated, the European Parliament does have a limited role in the negotiations. It is not involved directly in the negotiations, although the Brexit steering group does feed in and comment on negotiations. In addition, the EP holds the power of a consent vote.

Brexit and Animals

I am currently working with fellow Parliamentarians to ensure that the next European Parliament resolution, setting out the basis of what it would want in any agreement with the UK, pays regard to animal welfare.

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill, Agriculture Bill, Customs Bill and Trade Bill, the legislative tools the UK Government is attempting to force through the Commons in support of its vision of a hard Brexit, will all have an impact on animal welfare standards in Britain.

I’ve commented before on the wholly inadequate 'Repeal Bill', which is meant to convert existing EU rules into UK law. I am still hugely concerned about its terrifyingly anti-democratic proposals - the so-called ‘Henry the Eighth’ clauses - to give the Conservative Government the power to change UK laws without any Parliamentary scrutiny, and about the Government’s failure to transpose into UK law the key general environmental principles that are enshrined in the EU treaties, such as the precautionary principle and the “polluter pays” principle.

At the end of last year, I wrote to Environment Secretary Michael Gove about the principle of animal sentience - the recognition that animals feel pain and experience stress - and my colleague Caroline Lucas MP tabled an amendment to the Bill, which gained cross-party support, to ensure this important recognition would be included. Disappointingly, the amendment was rejected after every Conservative and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP voted against it.

However, following a high profile backlash and a PR disaster which saw Ministers and Tory MPs scrambling to justify their vote against Caroline’s amendment by claiming the provision already existed in UK law - it doesn’t - we saw the Government embark on a hugely humiliating U-Turn. The subsequent draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill, announced on 12 December 2017, is now progressing through Parliament. The bill states that the Government will have to consider animal sentience in the future when they draw up new laws.

The U-turn was a big victory for campaigners and Greens and a big climbdown from the Government. But there is a real risk that there will be a gap in legal protection for animals as there is no guarantee that the new animal welfare bill will reach the statute book before Brexit becomes effective. The draft animal sentience Bill is already being opposed by industry groups and, just this month, a report was published by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Commons Select Committee suggesting that the commitment to paying regard to animal sentience in the Bill should be delayed.

I have signed a recent Compassion in World Farming petition to protect the Draft Animal Sentience Bill. Please join me and fellow Greens, alongside animal protection groups, in making our voice heard and let Michael Gove know that the ability of animals to feel pain and joy must not be ignored.

On 12 February, I held a talk at Cambridge University, organised by Cambridge Young Greens, looking at what the EU has done for animals in the UK and across Europe, and met Green Councillor Oscar Gillespie to talk about ways to prevent animal welfare standards from falling post-Brexit. I also raised my animal welfare concerns with the Cambridge Independent.

This week, I reiterated my concerns about animals and Brexit as the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee’s report on the Brexit impacts on the trade in food confirmed what we already know: one of the greatest threats to animal welfare post-Brexit is the Government’s desperate rush to sign up to a raft of toxic free trade deals that signal a race to the bottom on animal welfare standards and/or put British farmers out of business en masse.

I have also just finished work on a new publication on animal protection and exiting the EU. You can read more about it in the Animal Welfare section of this report (page 7).

Brexit and Health

Last week, I visited the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Cambridge Institute to learn more about the impact of Brexit on biomedical research and access to vital cancer drugs. I met with Greg Hannon, the new director of the CRUK Cambridge Institute, who outlined his concerns about the impact any form of Brexit will have on not only CRUK’s Cambridge Institute, one of Europe’s largest cancer research facilities, but on the UK’s research community as a whole.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Professor Hannon raised his fears about, among other things, the future of the £10m in EU funding the CRUK Cambridge Institute receives; CRUK’s ability to attract charitable donations in light of the economic impacts of Brexit; the ability to attract talented EU nationals, who make up more than a fifth of the Institute’s staff; the loss of access to collaborative networks across Europe, and; the UK’s departure from the European Medicines Agency, which will see patients in the UK suffer significant delays in receiving vital new cancer drugs.

Earlier this year, I raised the issue of the UK Government’s insistence on leaving EURATOM, which the Royal College of Radiologists, the British Nuclear Medicine Society, and the British Medical Association have argued presents a real threat to the uninterrupted, cross-border supply of the medical isotopes that an estimated 1 million cancer patients in the UK already rely on every year. I sent a letter to Greg Clark together with my Green MEP colleague Jean Lambert, highlighting these warnings, and raised them again during my meeting with Mr Hannon.

Brexit and Human Rights

Earlier this year, I lent my signature to a letter calling on the UK Government to protect the vital EU Charter of Fundamental Rights post-Brexit. The letter stresses that MEPs will be closely involved in discussions over the future relationship between the UK and the EU, and that they will push to ensure that any future agreement protects human rights as set out in the Charter. This will also be taken into consideration when MEPs come to vote on the final withdrawal agreement. The letter builds on campaigns by organisations such as Liberty and Amnesty International, who have expressed concerns about the Government’s decision not to retain the Charter in UK law. It also follows an open letter, signed by more than 20 organisations and human rights legal experts, urging the Government to ensure that the Charter’s protections are retained after Brexit.

Green Guarantees

An updated copy of my ‘Brexit: Green Guarantees leaflet can be downloaded here.

Transport

Transport Committee (TRAN)

Transport Accessibility

The Accessibility Act report I’ve been reporting on has now entered trilogue stage, where the three EU institutions - the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council - are negotiating agreement on the final legislation. As rapporteur for the Transport Committee (TRAN) opinion, it is my top priority to ensure that the mandatory requirement that all transport building projects must be designed to be easily used by people with limited mobility or sensual impairment is retained. Negotiations will be ongoing for the next 6 months, and I will do everything in my power to negotiate a far-reaching final legislation that will have a positive impact on the lives of the 80 million people with reduced mobility throughout the EU.

Transport and Climate Change

My amendments to TRAN’s opinion on the International Ocean Governance file , which are pushing for stricter enforcement of shipping emissions regulations, were debated in September and most of my suggestions were adopted in the Committee vote. The report was voted on in plenary in January with a good overall outcome.

Mobility Package

As shadow rapporteur for a legislative proposal on driving and rest times for lorry drivers in the EU, I am working to improve road safety and working conditions for drivers. As studies on road safety found, the main reason behind commercial truck crashes are overworked and fatigued drivers. That is why I am demanding that the maximum driving hours for lorry drivers should be reduced by one hour a day, and that the daily rest times drivers are required to take shall be increased by 15 minutes to amount to a full hour or two half hours a day. This would take the pressure off drivers, who often suffer from fatigue due to working extremely long hours and, as a result, put themselves and other people in danger. Too little rest can lead to a lack of concentration or cause drivers to fall asleep behind the wheel due to exhaustion. In addition, I oppose the option for drivers to take their weekly rest inside the vehicle, as I believe they should stay in adequate accommodation in order to properly recuperate. Therefore, I am promoting better overall working conditions for drivers in order to enhance their wellbeing and concentration, which would, in turn, lead to improved road safety by reducing the number of fatigue-induced accidents. The report will be voted in committee in May this year and is scheduled to be voted in plenary in July.

In The Constituency…

Letter to Chris Grayling on the ‘State of Transport 2018’

I have written to the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, to urge a ‘sea change’ in the Government’s ‘outdated’ and ‘climate-destructive’ infrastructure agenda as the UK’s official statistics reveal transport emissions are continuing to grow. Transport has become the largest greenhouse gas emitting sector in the UK, according to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s latest report. The letter addresses my concerns on a wide range of transport issues, including airport expansion and aviation, roadbuilding, air pollution, rail and electric vehicles.

Road Expansion & Sustainable Mobility

Further to a new report by the National Audit Office which slammed Govia Thameslink for ‘not providing good value for money,’ I put the case for bringing our railways back into public ownership starting with Southern.

Further to Highways England’s public consultation on its plans for the A27, with campaign groups I plan on responding to the National Infrastructure Commission National Infrastructure Assessment. I am now working with campaigners on viable alternative transport models for Sussex and the south coast with the South Coast Alliance for Transport and Environment.

I continue to back Network Rail’s proposals for an East-West rail link. In my response to the Phase Three consultation stage of the project, I reiterated my support for the project’s plans to re-establish rail links between Oxfordshire and East Anglia and the wider rail network. I also repeated my call for the route to be electrified.

I am convinced that the East-West rail link should be built instead of, not as well as the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway. In January, I wrote to the Chief Executive of Highways England criticising the lack of a public consultation on the proposed route of the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway. In my letter I outline why I believe the Expressway contravenes the international Aarhus convention. The convention, to which the UK as a member of the EU is signed up, requires signatories to ensure there is meaningful public participation in major decisions which impact upon the environment.

Airport Expansion & Aviation

Once again, I called on the Government to give up on their disastrous plans for Heathrow expansion, as the revised Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) consultation closed in December. Along with my Green MEP colleague from London, Jean Lambert, we set out the reasons why the proposed plans would be an environmental disaster and questioned the economic case for airport expansion in the South East of England and beyond. I have argued that the Government’s own air quality analysis must rule out a third runway at Heathrow. Aviation is a top ten global polluter and emissions from the heavily subsidised industry are set to balloon by 300% if action is not taken sooner rather than later. Not accounting for any airport expansion, emissions from aviation are already expected to use up more than two-thirds of the UK’s carbon budget by 2050. At the same time, the Government’s so-called ‘Clean’ Growth Strategy revealed that the UK is already set to miss its legally-binding carbon targets under the Climate Change Act. Again, without building any new runways.

I welcomed a report from another Green MEP, Bas Eickhout, which will pave the way for future legislation and has recommended a tax on aviation fuel; the removal of VAT exemption on air passenger tickets and the phasing out of CO2 emitting cars, amongst a wide range of proposals.

Last Friday, I wrote to RiverOak Strategic Partners to object in the strongest way possible to their application for a Development Consent Order (DCO) to reopen the Manston Airport site as a freight airport. I am convinced that particulate pollution from the proposed freight hub would seriously endanger the health and wellbeing of local communities in the surrounding towns and villages, including Minster, Manston, Margate and Ramsgate, and would exacerbate the UK’s air pollution crisis in general. I was astonished at the company’s ignorance of the issue and oppose the plans on environmental, social and economic grounds. Instead of reopening the Manston Airport site as a cargo hub, there is plenty of scope for an alternative vision of the future in Thanet, based around sectors such as leisure, agriculture and green energy, something the Council should lead the way in promoting.

Animal Welfare

New report: ‘Animal Protection and Exiting the EU’

I have launched a new report looking at the impact of Brexit on animal welfare in the UK. It assesses impacts on everything from veterinary medicine to farmed animal welfare. Almost 80% of the animal welfare protections Britain’s animals enjoy are derived from our membership of the EU. In fact, it is one of the few areas where the UK has actively engaged and helped drive positive action to improve the lives of millions of animals across Europe. By leaving the European Union, we not only forgo our influence and ability to protect animals across the continent, we lose a number of vital protections for which we have fought so hard. Copies will be distributed at my stall at the GPEW conference on 3-4 March.

ENVI committee

Work urgently needs to be done to address the growing illegal trade in companion animals in the European Union. This market is so frequently unregulated, which puts the animals’ welfare at risk and offers no protection to buyers who don’t know that their future pet is being sold to them illegally. I have been working on bringing an Oral Question to the European Commission, calling on them to implement strong plans to protect animals and their owners within the context of the EU’s new digital agenda.

I welcomed the news that Defra is calling for evidence as the Government considers a ban on third-party puppy sales. The Green Party has been lobbying the Government for years on this issue as a properly implemented ban is vital in the fight to put an end to the inhumane and cruel puppy farming industry. We will remain vigilant to ensure action follows words.

Intergroup for the Welfare and Conservation of Animals
As Vice-Chair of this intergroup, I have been involved in the work to set up a parliamentary enquiry committee on animal transport. As well as highlighting the barbarity of this practice, I have been stressing to fellow MEPs the strong support from EU citizens for much higher welfare conditions during live animal transport.

Sadly, most member states are just not implementing the correct, legally required, measures that aim to ensure live export journeys are correctly planned and carried out in line with animal welfare requirements to prevent causing unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to the animals. It’s now up to us in the European Parliament to make sure trade between countries in the EU and other countries is consistent with EU legal requirements and for us to seize the opportunity to greatly improve the conditions surrounding the trade in animals.

A proposal for inquiry committee will soon be submitted to the parliament and MEPs will have a chance to vote in plenary on the establishment of this committee - something that cannot come too soon!

In September, I am also hosting an event with some of my Green MEP colleagues from France, Austria and Germany to call for stricter laws in animal transports and to raise awareness of the increasingly industrial European milk and meat production system.

Pig Welfare Working Group

Myself and several cross-party colleagues are working to tackle the unnecessary pain caused to pigs, such as the routine tail-docking and surgical castration practiced on farms across the EU as a misguided panacea for the terrible conditions in which these pigs are often raised.

We have been hounding the Commission to ensure better enforcement of the laws intended to protect pigs and have succeeded in securing a pilot project worth EUR 600 000 to improve market conditions for pig meat obtained from pigs that have not been surgically castrated.

The Commission is also now implementing a work plan, where Member States are asked to provide action plans on how they will ensure better compliance with the law - specifically the avoidance of routine tail-docking - by the end of 2018. Our group won’t rest until we see significant improvements to the lives of these wonderful, intelligent creatures.

Ivory

You may recall that an ambitious resolution I helped draft, calling for an immediate and full EU-wide ban on the trade in ivory, was voted on by the European Parliament’s Environment committee in autumn 2016, and I was delighted to see it adopted by an overwhelming majority of MEPs during a plenary voting session in Strasbourg in November that year. The resolution also calls for common sanctions at EU level against wildlife trafficking, which is worth an estimated €20 billion annually.

In a response to Defra’s consultation on plans to restrict the ivory trade in Britain, I have called on the UK Government to implement a full and comprehensive ivory trade ban, without exemptions.

I called for the ban to be implemented before London hosts the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in October this year. I have also sent an official submission to the EU consultation on a Europe-wide ban on the ivory trade.

Badger cull

I criticised the Government’s plans to extend the ‘scientifically illiterate, ineffective and downright cruel’ badger cull to areas where farmed animals are at a low risk of catching the disease. The Government has also launched a ‘review’ of its bovine TB control strategy, which refuses to reassess Defra’s badger cull policy.

Animal testing

I strongly condemned and was horrified at the news that the firms behind Dieselgate have been allegedly forcing human and primate subjects to inhale toxic diesel fumes. That primates and humans have allegedly been forced to inhale the diesel fumes several scientific studies have already proven to be toxic is beyond belief, not to say extremely cruel and unnecessary.

Making Tracks

The Spring/Summer 2018 edition of the UK Green MEPs’ animal protection newsletter Making Tracks is fresh off the printers. Print copies will be available at the MEP stall during the GPEW Spring conference in Bournemouth. You can also contact my London office to order copies. This issue’s articles focus on Brexit and animal welfare, ivory trade, animal sentience, cosmetics animal testing, neonics, pulse fishing and the EU wild bird ban.

Air Quality

Holding the Government to Account

This week, I welcomed the news that ClientEarth has won its latest case against the Government over its air pollution failures and ‘shabby rewrite’ of its inadequate air quality plan. The Government still won’t learn its lesson. It should finally take the urgent action necessary to address a public health emergency linked to the deaths of 50,000 British citizens every year, instead of prioritising throwing taxpayers’ cash away fighting in the courts against taking even the most basic action needed to bring our air within EU air pollution limits.

Air pollution and Health

Last month, I slammed the Government’s ‘dereliction’ of duty as the European Commission summoned the UK for its repeated air pollution failures. The UK is one of nine EU member states to have been summoned by the Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella for talks over their failures to comply with EU NO2 pollution limits. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, Michael Gove dodged the summons and sent a junior minister in his place. Further to a planning application being submitted in Newhaven, East Sussex, for another incinerator, I voiced my concerns about the cumulative effect of poor air quality being made worse in the town. Shortly after, I wrote to East Sussex County Council to object to the Brett Aggregates application to open a concrete factory in Newhaven. In my letter regarding the planning application, I raised a series of objections including the application process in general, air quality, amenity impacts, current infrastructure, biodiversity, environmental considerations, the setting of the South Downs National Park, Public Right of Way and economic development.

I responded to the news that Defra has published its scientific report into the Birling Gap ‘chemical haze’ incident in East Sussex in August 2017, criticising that it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know; we still don’t have any real answers on what the gas was or from where it came. At the very least, the Government should be able to offer residents an assurance that this won’t happen again (as it did in Seaford, just a month after Birling Gap), but, with no firm answers, it’s clear that it can’t. On behalf of the health and well-being of my constituents, and with the help of the EU institutions, I will continue my pursuit of answers and assurances. My letters to Defra and the European Commission on this matter can be found here.

Energy

GPEW Spring Conference panel discussion: ‘Brexit and Energy: Which Way Forward?’

Saturday 3 March, 18.00-19.15, Bournemouth International Centre On 3 March, I’ll be chairing a panel debate, co-hosted by the Green Party and the Green UK MEPs, which will explore the future of UK energy policy in view of the huge threat posed by Brexit to the sector as a whole. With the past three years having been the hottest on record and the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°c due this year, the UK needs to urgently demonstrate its commitment to a sustainable energy future. Speakers will explore the potential impact of Brexit on energy security, unconventional oil and gas extraction as well as renewable and community energy, examining possible changes to legislation. It will also look at how leaving the EU could affect UK nuclear safety standards and future collaboration with Europe. The event will feature keynote speeches from expert panellists followed by Q&A.

This panel debate is part of the Green Party Spring Conference, 3-4 March, and is open to the public. If you wish to attend, please arrive 30 mins before the start time and sign in at the registration desk.

Renewable Energy and Climate Change

Last week, I visited a community energy project in Milton Keynes. Back in 2015, I visited Milton Keynes to launch my 'Taking Back the Power' report on Community Energy. On this visit, I met with Jane Grindey of Wolverton Community Energy alongside Tim Davies, Executive Director at Camphill Communities in Willen Park, where solar PV panels have since been installed.

Whilst the project has been a success, Wolverton Community Energy is facing challenges due to the reduction in Government support for uptake of renewables. It was wonderful to see all that Wolverton Community Energy has achieved in the last 3 years and I am encouraged that renewable energy is helping to serve the wonderful Camphill Communities in Milton Keynes. But we need to see more, not less investment and support from the Government if such community-led initiatives are to succeed. Whilst they continue to support fracking, offer huge subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, and back the Big 6, the prospect of a truly renewable energy future continues to look shaky.

I have reiterated my support for the extension of Thanet Offshore Wind Farm, which could more than double the generating capacity of the existing site and produce up to 340 MW. Britain must urgently improve its renewable energy performance and I consider investment in offshore wind an important part in reducing carbon emissions and meeting our climate change targets. I hope that the extension will receive approval and will serve as an example and inspiration for other green energy projects throughout the UK.

Oil and gas extraction

Following a damning report from NASA, which revealed the fossil fuel industry is driving the rise in global methane emissions, I called on Theresa May to assure us that fracking would have no place in a 25-year environment plan for Britain.

I objected very strongly to Cuadrilla’s new planning application at Balcombe and called on West Sussex County Councillors to heed the overwhelming calls from their constituents to block the fracking firm. My disappointment to the consented application was only made worse with Cuadrilla then selling the operation of its Balcombe drilling licence to Angus Energy. Angus Energy is currently locked in a long-running planning dispute with Surrey County Council after the firm drilled a side-track well without permission at their Brockham drill site in Dorking.

I criticised UKOG’s plans to submit a planning application for oil production at the Horse Hill exploration site near Gatwick Airport. The government-backed unconventional oil and gas rush across the UK will not only despoil Surrey’s Outstanding Area of Natural Beauty it will ensure the UK fails to meet its legally-binding climate change targets under the Climate Change Act and Paris Agreement.

At the end of January, I paid a visit to the Isle of Wight to campaign against ‘climate-destructive’ oil drilling on the Island. I met local residents at a proposed drilling site at Brook Beach, alongside local campaigner and Councillor Daniel James. Later that day, I hosted a public meeting on the alternatives to oil and gas drilling and the importance of renewable energy investment on the Isle of Wight. Only a week and a half later, UKOG ended its pursuit of offshore oil exploration near Compton on the Isle of Wight but announced its intention to start onshore drilling in Arreton. I will stand by the local campaigners and residents who will be fighting to protect their environment, their communities and the planet by opposing UKOG’s plans tooth and nail.

Earlier this month, I expressed my dismay at the Government’s proposal to let the national level overrule local democracy on fracking. This was in response to the news that the Communities and Local Government Select Committee is seeking submissions on whether planning applications for fracking in England should be decided by a government minister, rather than local councils. The Government is making a total sham of any pretence of localism.

Also in February, I reiterated my opposition to the Traffic Management Plan for Leith Hill. The Traffic Management Plan was updated after a decision on a previous version was deferred by Surrey County Council — with councillors raising serious concerns about the operating firm Europa Oil and Gas’s conduct. In my submission to the consultation, I raised concerns about the air quality impacts of the traffic proposals, the environmental impact on the historic sunken Coldharbour Lane, the danger posed to cyclists and other vulnerable road users, the categorisation of peaceful protest as ‘force majeure’, and the lack of meaningful consultation with local residents.

I have responded to an Environment Agency report outlining that fracking poses a risk to water quality and resources, confirming what I suspected all along.

On Valentine’s Day, I sent a message of support to anti-drilling campaigner Pete Whittick as he went before the courts in Brighton. Dr Whittick was arrested while allegedly resisting the movement of rigging from the Brockham drill site, which was set to be used to support the oil drilling operation at Lidsey, near Bognor Regis. Locals organised a ‘#Valentines2Earth‘ protest in support of Pete Whittick outside the Law Courts in Brighton.

Another area I have been concerned about is what discussions oil and gas companies are having to consult local communities about sites being developed across the South East. I launched a survey last December that found that more than three-quarters of residents quizzed about oil and gas drilling operations in their communities said they were not consulted by the firm responsible before a planning application was submitted, despite the industry body’s ‘Community Charter‘ stressing the importance of public engagement. The full results can be found here. In addition, I wrote to Energy Secretary Greg Clark about the failure of oil and gas companies to engage with affected communities.

Incinerators in Surrey Waste Plan

I also wrote to Surrey County Council to object in the strongest terms to plans for three to six incinerators in the Surrey Waste Plan - all of which are in the Green Belt. Incineration is a major contributor to carbon emissions, even when it’s used to produce energy, and distracts from recycling and reuse efforts.

In Other News

LGBTI Intergroup & constituency support

I continue to voice my support of LGBT rights as human rights through my position on the European Parliament LGBT Rights Intergroup, often through co-signing cross-party initiatives. A recent such example was a letter sent on behalf of the Socialists and Democrats’ Spanish Delegation - which i co-signed - protesting the elected appointment of a homophobic and sexist Spanish judge to the European Court of Human Rights. An official copy of the letter will be available to read online in due time.

I received a letter from a constituent in January 2018 regarding the transphobic remarks made by backbench Conservative MP David TC Davies, following new NHS’ guidelines for health screenings for trans people. In my response, I was proud to reiterate the pro-trans and gender-inclusive values enshrined in Green Party of England and Wales and Greens/EFA LGBTIQA+ policy.

Delegation to Palestine

Relations between Israel and Palestine continue to become ever more fraught as Donald Trump and his unstoppable tweeting complicate an already fragile situation. On 7th December, I took part in a well-attended public panel debate alongside journalist David Cronin, where we discussed the relations between the EU and Israel and, more particularly, the impact of Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Brussels was fortunate enough to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday 11th December, who received invitation from the Lithuanian Foreign Minister to attend a meeting of foreign ministers from each EU Member State. In response, I co-signed two letters in protest of his visit to HR/VP Mogherini: the first, a cross-party MEP initiative; the second, sent on behalf of DPAL.

On 6th February, I organised and co-hosted an open meeting in the European Parliament in Strasbourg alongside my Green colleague and Vice-Chair of DPAL, Margrete Auken, with Matthias Burchard, Director of UNRWA* EU, to discuss funding to the charity in light of Trump’s decision to slash the US’ annual aid contribution from $125 to $65 million dollars (*The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Middle East). UNRWA have launched #DignityIsPriceless, a donation campaign, to which I contributed from my personal funds. In addition, I co-signed a written question by Miguel Viegas MEP (GUE/NGL) to the European Commission regarding UNRWA and what the EU can do to step up its contribution.

Revealed: The ‘hunger crisis’ across the South East

In my Hungry Christmas paper on foodbank dependency across the South East, I reported that Conservative ministers have overseen at least a 20% rise in foodbank use in my area alone in the last 4 years – with over 110,000 food parcels handed out this year. At the centre of this crisis is one fact: poverty is political. And its elimination has to be our top priority.

Plastic carrier bag charge

I welcomed the extension of the plastic carrier bag charge in England, reminding Theresa May that the Tories were obliged to bring the charge in to fulfil an EU Directive on plastic pollution that was designed by the Greens in the European Parliament. This was in response to the launch of the Government’s long-delayed and otherwise disappointing 25 Year Environment Plan.

NHS

I criticised Theresa May’s decision to promote Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary responsible for pushing our NHS into a deadly and unprecedented crisis. Despite the PM’s reported plans to shift Hunt away from the Department of Health, he refused to shift and even convinced May to expand his portfolio. Hunt’s time as Health Secretary has been an abject failure. But the Conservative government still believes he is doing a good job – and, as much as his failures, that fact should terrify us all.

Last month, I was appalled to learn that the Government is officially backing the controversial Naylor proposals for a big NHS property sell-off. With the heat off the crisis in our NHS, and a media focus on the Brexit impact studies scandal, the Conservative government took the opportunity to bury some pretty significant bad news for our national health service.

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