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Brexit could threaten UK's environmental policies

A group of high-level environment experts have warned environment secretary Liz Truss that leaving the European Union could threaten many of Britain's environmental policies - from building regulations to improve the thermal efficiency of homes, through to programmes to boost water quality in rivers and lakes.

‚ÄčThe group, which included the former heads of the Environment Agency, the National Trust and the Green Alliance, wrote an open letter to Ms Truss. In it, they explained that the UK's membership in the EU has led to improvements in the country's water and air, raised standards for energy efficiency and lowered consumer energy costs.

"Britain's membership of the European Union has had a hugely positive effect on the quality of Britain’s beaches, our water and rivers, our air and for many of our rarest birds, plants and animals and their habitats," the letter said.

"Higher European manufacturing standards for cars, lights and household appliances have lowered consumer energy costs and stimulated business innovation," it added.

The group expressed its concerns about how EU environment policies would apply in Britain after a Brexit.

"We would no longer be able to shape EU policy and our influence on the environmental performance of other member states would decline very sharply once we were no longer at the negotiating table," the letter warned.

The letter concluded that a Brexit would be damaging for Britain's environment: "There are many issues which will decide voting intentions at the forthcoming referendum, but on this issue which is so central to the British quality of life, the case is clear: we will be better able to protect the quality of Britain's environment if we stay in Europe."

Commenting on the letter, Paul Ekins, professor of resources and environmental policy at UCL, said: "Britons have benefited greatly from EU environmental policy and Britain inside the EU has also been able to shape it."

He explained that the UK would lose this ability if we were to leave the EU, but it would be very likely that we would have to continue to follow EU environmental laws is we wished to retain access to the EU's single market.

"This would effectively reduce UK sovereignty rather than increasing it. Paradoxically, perhaps, membership of the EU is an essential condition for the UK to exercise some sovereign influence over the European forces that affect it," he explained.

Friends of the Earth agreed with the letter, calling for Britain to remain in the EU. The group believes that collective action is the best way to help prevent climate change and deal with other environmental issues.

Samuel Lowe, campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "It is not possible to combat the challenges ahead, such as climate change, air pollution and destruction of the natural world as the UK alone. At a time where collective action, alongside our regional and international partners, is needed more than ever, now is not the time to be pulling apart."

Baroness Barbara Young, former chief executive of the Environment Agency and RSPB, emphasised the importance of collaboration across national boundaries . She believes that common EU standards help to promote new technologies and businesses. " A Brexit would halt and even reverse four decades of progress," she said.