Stanley Johnson: My son Boris is wrong – the EU is good for Yorkshire environment

Boris Johnson at a Vote Leave rally.
Boris Johnson at a Vote Leave rally.
  • From The Yorkshire Post opinion pages of June 18, 2016
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PEOPLE across Yorkshire will be battling with the European Union question over the coming days.

Doubtless there will be people on both sides hammering their points home for your votes in that period.

You may have read my son’s views in recent months – he’s been quite forthright with them!

But for all the love and respect I have for Boris, my view is different.

I think it’s crucial we vote to Remain in this referendum.

My own career as an environmental campaigner and Conservative MEP led me to see the value in an institution like the European Union.

The environment is my great passion in life: when nature is protected we are all better off.

This corner of our green and pleasant land has benefited so much from EU protections.

Whether it be the North York Moors or Flamborough Head – there are 170,000 hectares of land protected as Special Areas of Conservation across Yorkshire.

Areas protected because of Europe’s help, meaning we can keep the land beautiful for the next generation.

In fact there is so much of our beautiful land protected in this way that 93 per cent of people living in the UK are less than 15 miles from a protected site.

We all benefit from being able to enjoy nature, confident in the knowledge it is being protected.

The species that makes this part of the world so beautiful have benefitted too.

The thousands of puffins, gannets and kittiwakes that throng Flamborough Head and Bempton Cliffs, as well as the golden plover and curlew whose haunting calls reflect the wildness of the moors where they live.

The EU delivered funds right across the UK to help these birds, protecting their habitats thanks to the creation of Special Areas of Conservation.

Today breeding golden plover number more than 50,000 across the UK, with about 700 to 800 pairs nesting on the North York Moors.

It’s easy to say the UK Government would protect them too. But the facts don’t bear that out. Before the EU stepped in, every year 10-15 per cent of sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) were damaged.

Now it’s less than one per cent.

Europe had to force UK governments of all political colours to clean up our beaches.

Sometimes Westminster politicians make decisions for the short term and that doesn’t work for nature.

Maybe birds and habitats don’t get your pulse racing like they do mine.

There’s a very important point at the heart of this, though: some problems we cannot tackle on our own.

Not because we aren’t great enough – we are great – but because the issues cross national borders.

The birds don’t queue up at the White Cliffs waiting for their passports to be checked.

Neither, by the way, do the sorts of global businesses that try to avoid environmental standards and would be only too glad for individual nations to squabble between themselves.

That’s why, rather than turning away, we should be making the EU work for us.

Environmentalists for Europe want to press for greater ambition, and get the problem of plastics in our seas solved at European level: for a start by ending the use of disposable plastic drinks bottles that blight our marine life, porpoises, fish and birds.

It’s very hard, if not impossible, to make this change just in one country.

But if the EU adopted this measure, it would transform the world’s market in bottled drinks.

Wouldn’t that be something to be proud of?

I don’t believe in a grand European project.

There are many ways that Europe needs improving and reforming.

We can only make sure it reforms in the right way by being involved.

I do believe in going with what’s pragmatic and what works. We need to be in Europe because there are challenges we can only overcome by working with other nations, and I’ve seen first hand that the EU at its best can seriously resolve these big problems.

I hope you can join me in voting Remain in this referendum.

• Stanley Johnson is the co-founder of Environmentalists for Europe, a pro EU campaign group. He is a Remain campaigner and on the opposing side of his son Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London.