Author: Peter Walker
Significant majorities of Conservative voters want EU environmental regulations to be maintained or even strengthened in the wake of Brexit, a poll carried out for the Tory thinktank Bright Blue has found.
While a handful of prominent Conservatives, such as the former environment secretary Owen Paterson, have argued that leaving the EU will allow Britain to revamp its rules on the subject, the survey found huge support for the status quo.
The Populus-conducted polling found Conservative voters wanted to keep not just relatively uncontroversial protections such as beach standards, but also EU fishing quotas and targets for renewable energy production.
Onshore wind farms won majority support, while the survey found that even two-thirds of leave-supporting Tory voters were proud of the UK’s international role in protecting the environment.
Rebecca Pow, the Conservative MP for Taunton Deane, who works with Bright Blue on environmental issues, said the findings were not a surprise to her.
“I have found huge support among Conservatives from old to young for protecting our precious environment,” she said. “In this Brexit world we should adopt wholesale the current EU environment legislation relating to areas including water, wildlife, habitats, beaches and climate change and tailor it to our particular needs, as time goes on.
“Conservatives have always cared for and been custodians of the environment but this report demonstrates we can be even bolder in our future approach to this area and I shall be working to encourage this endeavour.”
The polling found support of 90% or more for the maintenance or strengthening of regulations connected to water quality and beach cleanliness, habitats protections, and targets for curbing air pollution and combating increasing household waste.
Renewable energy generation targets saw 85% backing, with nearly two-thirds supporting existing fishing quotas and a ban on the production of genetically modified crops.
The survey found 60% of those polled accept the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, while more than half of the voters ranked renewable energy generation as one of their top priorities. Two-thirds backed policies to phase out coal from electricity generation.
Even more of those asked support measures to oblige all homes being sold to meet a minimum energy performance standard (70%) and to tighten regulations on new diesel engines (74%).
Sam Hall, a senior researcher at Bright Blue who wrote the report based on the polling, said that as parliament prepared to debate the so-called “great repeal bill”, which would shift EU rules into UK law, “there is no mandate from Conservatives to dilute current environmental regulations”.
He said: “Most Conservatives do care about climate change and the natural environment. They support ambitious environmental policies, including closing Britain’s remaining coal-fired power stations to introducing new low-emission zones in air pollution hotspots. There is a clear mandate from its own voters for the Conservative government to adopt a more ambitious, conservative agenda on the environment.”