Stanley Johnson: Why we need a clear domestic target to restore nature by 2030

1 Mar

Stanley Johnson is an environmentalist, author, former Conservative MEP and parliamentary candidate.  His new novel, The Warming, will be published next year.

Today, the Chief Executieves of more than fifty environmental non-governmental organisations have written to the Prime Minister, thanking him for his “personal efforts to put the UK at the forefront of international work to mend our broken relationship with nature”,

They refer, in particular, to the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, supported by the Prime Minister, and now signed by Leaders of 84 countries and the European Union, which proudly boasts in a banner headline that they – the leaders – are “united to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 for sustainable development”.

They insist that, to achieve that aim, the Leaders’ Pledge must be a “precursor for a strong international deal” at the 15th Conference of Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15) which is due to place later this year in Kunming, China.

Owing to the disruptions caused by the pandemic, the Kunming meeting – planned for May – is likely to be delayed again, and a new date has yet to be fixed. That is a matter for China, as the host of COP 15, to decide.

But one thing is certain. The Kunming Conference is likely to be as significant for the world’s biodiversity as the 26th meeting of the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP 26), which will take place in Glasgow in November this year with Alok Sharma presiding, will be for the world’s climate.

Indeed, the two issues are inextricably linked. Quite apart from the fundamental importance of nature and natural resources for the health and wealth of nations, ‘nature-based solutions’ will play a major role in the fight against global warming. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, for example, probably the most respected international body in the field of nature conservation, has recently stated  that “each country should maximize the contribution of nature-based solutions; ramping up nature conservation is critical for solving the climate emergency: nature-based climate solutions have the potential to provide up to 37 per cent of the climate change mitigation needed by 2030 to stabilize warming to below 2°C.”

In today’s letter to the Prime Minister, the NGO chiefs go on to say: “though the UK is uniquely placed to secure a global agreement and can show real leadership by setting an example domestically, more decisive action is needed here in the UK to ensure we realise this rare opportunity”.

They point specifically to the Environment Bill, and the opportunities it may provide if some simple changes are made to the text currently before Parliament. They hope, in particular, to ensure that the Bill includes a clear domestic target to restore nature by 2030.

They point out that though, under the current draft, the Secretary of State has the power to set biodiversity targets – and indeed an obligation to do so – the Government would not in fact be allowed to set new 2030 targets in law since Clause 1 (6) of the Bill provides that any target date must be “no less than 15 years after the date on which the target is initially set”.

“This mismatch in urgency and timescales means that it would not be possible to set a 2030 target to halt nature’s decline, and that important actions to deliver it, such as your own commitment to protect and manage 30 per cent of land and seas for nature by 2030, cannot be placed in law under the Environment Bill framework.”

The NGO leaders are much impressed by the impact on policy of the 2008 Climate Change Act, and the legally binding targets established under its terms for greenhouse gas reductions. They believe that the same approach can be adopted for nature protection: “just as the UK led the way in creating the world’s first Climate Change Act, so we can be the first country to set ambitious targets in law for the recovery of the natural world.”

But it is not only a question of protecting and restoring our own wildlife, our wild areas and landscapes, and much-threatened biodiversit -, whether terrestrial or marine. The Environment Bill, with a key legally binding biodiversity target to halt and begin to restore the loss of biodiversity enshrined in the primary legislation, could be a template for other countries ahead of COP15. It might even help to strengthen their resolve to achieve a truly ambitious global biodiversity deal at Kunming.

So I much hope that the fifty-plus NGO leaders who wrote to the Prime Minister today, and the nation-wide petition which they are launching, do indeed succeed in their aim of persuading the government to include, as of now, a “State of Nature Target” clause in the Environment Bill.

George Eustice, Rebecca Pow and their team have done a tremendous job in getting this once-in-a generation environmental legislation as far as they have under tremendously difficult circumstances. Now is the time to go that extra mile.

And I also hope that China, with its own superb mountains, rivers, forests, deserts, coasts and wildlife, is able to seize the spectacular opportunity that hosting COP 15 presents. We have continued to destroy our natural world as if there were no tomorrow. To give just one example: according to WWF’s Living Planet Index, world-wide population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles have seen an alarming average drop of 68 per cent since 1970. We have been trashing nature and wildlife for much too long. Now is the time to stop.

Anthony Browne: Post-Brexit Britain. Now we’ve taken back control, here’s what we can do with our new powers.

31 Dec

Anthony Browne is MP for South Cambridgeshire and a former Europe Editor of the Times.

When I worked for Boris Johnson during his first term as Mayor of London, I led on devolving powers to City Hall, and went through it with Oliver Letwin, David Cameron’s policy honcho. One idea was to devolve VAT to London, copying regional sales taxes in North America. “We can’t. It is against EU rules. Not sure why,” said Letwin.

With our agreement with the EU, arguably the biggest change is not individual policy areas, but the sense of empowerment. Throughout government, naysayers and those suffering excessive status-quo bias have been able to stop any initiative saying: “you can’t. It is against EU rules.”

Sometimes – like the abolition of the tampon tax and banning live animal exports – it was a correct interpretation of EU law. But often it was just a general prohibition. It would end the matter, because no one really understood the EU rules, they were too difficult to challenge, and basically impossible to change. It bred throughout the UK government machinery an intellectual dependency on the EU that led to a pervasive “can’t do” attitude.

But from January 1, no longer will anyone be able to say: “you can’t – EU rules”. We have jumped from the passenger seat to the pilot seat. Can’t do becomes can do. So – what should we do?

Eighteen months ago, at the depth of our Brexit political paralysis, ConservativeHome asked me to write a series of 10 articles highlighting potential “Policy Gains from Brexit” – things we might want to do and would be able to do once we had left the EU. So how are we doing?

On most of the issues, we are making great headway. Across much of government, the new empowerment has led to a renaissance of democracy and policy making. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs used to be a body for transposing EU rules, with a bureaucracy that had gone native.

But under Michael Gove, Liz Truss and George Eustice, civil servants have transformed from passive recipients to enlightened creators, giving the department a buzz of excitement.

The Agriculture Bill – the first time we have had an agricultural policy for over 40 years – scraps the dysfunctional Common Agricultural Policy, and replaces it with environmental subsidies (it was a pleasure to do my maiden speech on it).

The Environment Bill (which I sat on the Bill Committee of) doesn’t just replace EU environmental law, but enhances it and tailors it for the UK, much to the delight of green groups.

The Fisheries Bill gives us our own, more sustainable, fisheries policy (subject to quotas agreed with the EU).

The Government is consulting on banning the export of live animals for slaughter, which the impotent Labour government was unable to do when it wanted to.

We now have a Department for International Trade, with our own trade negotiators, giving us a trade policy for the first time in forty years, and pumping out our own trade agreements. Agriculture and environment groups have been enthusiastically debating how we protect standards in our trade policy, something nobody discussed before because we had no power to deliver it.

The Treasury is reviewing the whole framework of financial services regulation, with the aim of setting out an ambitious financial services strategy. Previous strategies for financial services (which I played my part in, as chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association) were rather optimistic exercises – the UK government didn’t have the power to do very much. Almost all our financial services regulation we have inherited from the EU, but we need to ensure it is proportionate, and supports innovation and competition, as well as international competitiveness and high standards.

The Treasury has scrapped the hated tax on tampons, which EU rules had prevented George Osborne from doing. The popular duty free from EU countries is coming back after a 20 year absence – with the ferries from Holyhead to Dublin offering it from Friday. The Government is launching freeports to boost trade and regeneration of more deprived parts of the UK. The Home Office has scrapped the much-hated freedom of movement, and replaced it with a global immigration policy making sure we can get the talent that our economy needs.

But now that we have this empowerment, what else could we do now we have left the EU? Here are some other possibilities:

  • Reform public procurement (under the OJEU rules), to make it fit for purpose and give small businesses more opportunities.
  • Promote competition among retail banks by reforming EU inherited capital rules.
  • Remove VAT on housing insulation and other environmental products, and reform the biofuels regime.
  • Transform our waste and recycling regime, so it is not an exercise in hitting EU targets.
  • Reform the EU’s second company directive to reduce pointless red tape for public companies.
  • Reform the General Data Protection Regulation to protect privacy while reducing burdens on small charities and businesses.
  • Reform Solvency II so our insurance companies can compete globally.
  • Promote collaboration programmes with the Commonwealth, rather than just the EU.

It has been obscured by the dramas around Brexit and Covid, but the policy arena is the most exciting it has been for a generation. Say goodbye to can’t do. Say hello to the new “can do” Britain.

Sponsored Post: Frank Zilberkweit: Restricting personal choice by banning fur would not be a Brexit bonus

18 Dec

Frank Zilberkweit is Chairman of the British Fur Trade Association.

I’m pretty sure that the majority of Conservatives did not campaign to leave the EU so that a majority Conservative Government could close down a highly regulated and legal sector, putting many SMEs and sole traders out of business and forcibly restricting personal choice.

Yet, animal rights activists, supported by a small number of MPs and an handful of unelected individuals in positions of influence are actively lobbying Government for a ban on natural fur sales whilst trying to portray it as a ‘Brexit bonus.’

The current campaign to ban fur sales is a classic of the anti-freedom genre: deploy selective claims and anecdotal evidence; generate headlines with celebrity backers (who have scant idea what they are being asked to endorse let alone of its consequences); table an Early Motion Day to claim ‘political support’ (despite it attracting almost zero Conservative support); commission the polling to elicit the response you require to claim ‘public endorsement’ and latch on to a minister, Lord Goldsmith in this case, willing to champion your minority views because it aligns with their own personal position.

Such shrill voices do not represent the silent majority who do not support such a ban and whose views should be recognised and respected rather than being cancelled. Those that shout the loudest seldom have the support of the majority or their moral backing.

Shamefully, such groups care little for the unintended consequences of their actions: banning fur in the UK would damage and set back animal welfare standards, not enhance them. Indeed, the Defra Secretary, George Eustice, himself made this very point in Parliament in 2018:

“It is not possible to make a difference just through the restriction on trade to the UK, because we represent a tiny portion, about 0.25 percent, of the entire global market. We would probably be more effective agitating for change through international forums such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, CITES and others.”

Banning fur would not end the international trade. It would though be unenforceable, moving supply from highly regulated sources to others unregulated and unlicenced, sold online and untaxed. The question is this: does the UK want to be seen as a leader that works to drive up standards globally, working with fur producing and manufacturing countries, or a country that is captured by pressure groups and prohibition campaigners that ban highly regulated international sectors?

This debate has consequences for other animal materials including wool, leather and, indeed, food production. Such groups have a Trojan Horse agenda: to end the use of all animals or animal-derived products whether for human consumption, for clothing, or for other use. Ban fur and they would simply move onto the next item on their list including silk, leather, wool and, yes, your Christmas turkey, as the group leading the fur ban campaign also advocates. Such activists also claim that there is ‘moral outrage’ around the continued sale of fur, yet the significant increase in fur sales in recent years firmly knocks that myth on the head.

A ban also sends out entirely the wrong message at a time when the UK is looking to conclude free trade deals with many fur producing and manufacturing countries.  Already the US Ambassador has raised his concerns about a possible UK ban. What does it say about post Brexit Britain and its commitment to free trade that one of its first acts is to ban a highly regulated, legal trade, present in every single country in the world? It is also highly likely that major fur-producing, and manufacturing countries including the US and Canada would seek to challenge the legal veracity of a UK ban. Animal rights activists care not one jot about any of this.

So here is the crux; you might not like fur, you might not wear it yourself, but others do and actively want to. Fur is popular and sales have increased by 200 percent in the last decade. Fur is no different to any other natural material, like leather, wool or silk. So, so long as that fur comes from responsible, certified and humane sources (as the fur that is sold in this country does), people should be free to choose to buy and wear fur and those rights should be respected. Banning fur is not a ‘Brexit bonus’ and a Conservative Government should trust British people to make up their own minds, not legislate on the whims of a small, yet vocal, minority.

Finally, the Daily Telegraph, in its recent editorial opposing a ban, captured it perfectly: “It is untrue that people who wear fur are ‘sick’, as Carrie Symonds the Prime Minister’s fiancee, tweeted last year. Britons must not be forbidden by diktat from wearing wool, leather or fur”.

Truss tops our Cabinet League Table for the first time

4 Dec
  • Whatever happens to Liz Truss at the next reshuffle, whenever it happens, she will go into it as one of the small number of Cabinet members past and present who have topped our Members’ Panel League Table.  The International Trade post sends its occupant out to bat for Britain and away from domestic political turmoil.  The freedom-orientated and ever-combative Truss is making the most it.
  • The key to her achieving pole position is not so much her tiny ratings rate (from 73 per cent to 75 per cent, but Rishi Sunak’s own small fall (from 81 to 75 per cent).  There may be some nervousness at the margins from respondents about future tax rises.
  • Ben Wallace is up from ninth on 40 per cent to third on 66 per cent.  That undoubtedly reflects his success in winning a multi-year defence settlement at a time when other departments have only a single-year one – with enough money to at least get by.  And the former soldier seems a better fit in his department than some other Cabinet ministers.
  • Michael Gove is down from fourth on 54 points to fifteenth on 30 points. That will be a consequence of his support for tough anti-Covid restrictions.
  • The Priti Patel bullying claims – our reading of Sir Alex Allen’s report into them is that it concluded she should resign because she may have broken the code unintentionally – have made next to no difference to her rating, which has dropped by a marginal three points.
  • And Boris Johnson?  He is down by eight points and hovers just below the relegation zone.  Matt Hancock evaded it this month by a sliver.

Our Cabinet League Table: Sunak is still top, and Johnson is back in positive territory – just

2 Nov
  • Rishi Sunak’s favourability rating is down from 81.5 per cent to 81.1 per cent – in other words, by so infinitesimal a margin as to make no difference.  In other polls, his soaring rating would be driven by the subsidies that the Treasury is paying out.  In this one, his resistance to lockdowns will be a significant contributor to his popularity.
  • Boris Johnson was marginally in negative territory last month (-10 per cent) and marginally in positive terroritory this month (13 per cent).  We can think of no reason why, given the panel’s decision to mark him down, the late September finding should have been in the red and the October one in the black (or vice-versa had it been case).
  • Matt Hancock slides a bit further into the minus ratings, Gavin Williamson a bit back towards the plus ones.  Liz Truss is up a little and Priti Patel by more, having had a sticky summer over the channel crossings.  All in all, it’s much of a muchness – with Douglas Ross down by about 25 points, now that his Party Conference coverage has faded.
  • These ratings were taken at the end of last week, before the Prime Minister’s emergency press conference on Saturday.  We suspect that it would have lowered his rating and that of the Cabinet; you may disagree; perhaps we will hold a snap survey later this week to find out…

Our Cabinet League Table. The Prime Minister falls into negative territory.

3 Oct
  • It’s not unprecedented for a Conservative Prime Minister to fall into negative territory in our monthly Cabinet League Table.  In April last year, Theresa May set a new record of scoring the lowest rating it has ever recorded – at -74. Compared to that, Boris Johnson’s -10.3 this month looks tame.
  • Nonetheless, it’s a rotten springboard from which to vault into Party Conference as it begins today.  As we wrote yesterday, it reflects weariness with curbs, frustration with what seem to be fluctuating and arbitrary rules, a sense that Ministers at the top of Government are divided – and a certain frustration with the Prime Minister himself.
  • Liz Truss up to second in the table, from 62 per cent to 70 per cent.  Dominic Raab and Michael Gove’s scores are both down but, with Steve Barclay and Truss, they are the only Cabinet Ministers to clear 50 per cent.  As recently as last December, the entire Cabinet was in the black, with 18 of its members above that 50 per cent rating.
  • Matt Hancock joins Gavin Williamson, Robert Jenrick and Johnson in negative territory. Amanda Milling clambers out of it (just about).  On a happier note, Douglas Ross more than doubles his rating from 26 per cent to 61 per cent: his aggression and energy in Scotland are getting noticed.
  • And finally: the Prime Minister has been low, though not nearly by this much, in the table before – shortly before he resigned as Foreign Secretary.  He bounced back then, and could do so again.  Once again, we make the point that this is much the same panel as gave him a 93 per cent rating after the last election.

The Conservative Party Conference programme – and which ministers are up and down

30 Sep

With only two days to go, the itinerary for this year’s Conservative Party Conference is upon us. Much has changed, thanks to Covid-19, not least the way events have been formatted. 

Without further ado, ConservativeHome takes a look at who’s doing what, and how events have been categorised – as well as what this could imply for ministers.

The first thing to note is that every MP in the Cabinet is making at least one appearance, albeit in different formats. The MPs taking part in two events are Amanda Milling, Elizabeth Truss and Matt Hancock. The Prime Minister will also be delivering a speech and being interviewed by Lord Sharpe of Epsom.

The events have been categorised broadly into keynote speeches, fireside chats, interactive interviews, panel discussions and training sessions. 

Clearly the most important is the keynote speech, which the following Cabinet ministers will be giving:

  • Dominic Raab (15:00 on Saturday)
  • Priti Patel (15:00 on Sunday)
  • Rishi Sunak (11:50 on Monday)
  • The Prime Minister (11:30 on Tuesday)

Milling will also be opening the conference at 11:30 on the first day.

Next up there’s the fireside chat. There are two versions of this, one involving being asked questions by an interviewer, the other by party members. The latter is arguably a more complex task; ministers are out on their own dealing with questions. The ministers doing this are:

  • Michael Gove (11:45 on Saturday)
  • Alok Sharma (14:30 on Monday)

Fireside chats involving an interviewer include:

  • Robert Buckland (16:00 on Sunday) – interviewed by Ken Clarke.
  • Gavin Williamson (11:00 on Monday) – interviewed by Peter Ashton, a headteacher and his former politics teacher.
  • Matt Hancock (16:30 on Monday) – interviewed by Patrick Stephenson, Director of Innovation and Healthcare at Fujitsu.

There’s also the “interactive interview”. It’s not obvious what makes this different from the “fireside chat”, but the ministers taking part in these are:

  • Liz Truss (14:30 on Saturday) – interviewed by Robert Colville, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies.
  • Matt Hancock (14:00 on Sunday) – interviewed by Nimco Ali OBE, CEO and Founder of the Five Foundation.
  • Grant Shapps (15:00 on Monday) – although it does not say who will interview him yet.
  • Oliver Dowden (15:30 on Monday) – interviewed by Joy Morrissey, MP for Beaconsfield (this is labelled as simply an “interview”).

Then there are the panel discussions. More sceptical Conservative members may notice that a number of fairly high profile Cabinet ministers are taking part in these. They may ask why they have not been put forward for the fireside chat or an interview – instead being accompanied by ministerial teams.

These include:

  • Ben Wallace, Secretary of State for Defence, who’s partaking in the Ministry of Defence Panel Discussion (12:15 on Saturday) with other ministers from the department.
  • Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who’s chairing a discussion (13:30 on Sunday) with party members and other ministers from the department.
  • Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions, who’s chairing the The Department for Work & Pensions Panel Discussion (11:30 on Monday) with other ministers from the department.
  • George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who’s holding a panel discussion (14:00 on Monday) with other ministers from the department.

It looks as though Downing Street has taken a decision to downgrade their profile.

Last up on the agenda are events focussed around increasing participation in Conservative campaigning. It’s clear, in particular, that CCHQ is keen to push for more female participation, with events on Female Entrepreneurs and Training, and Women and the 2021 Elections, alongside training support for young people.