Just days after UK Prime Minister Theresa May came to Brussels to sign a Brexit agreement with fellow EU leaders, one group of British politicians was sticking close to the heart (and lungs) of Europe.
Here META profiles four British MEPs who during a crucial week in the Brexit saga were busy getting on with their jobs defending the rights of all Europeans.
The European Parliament has a busy role as the democratic heart of the EU. Its committees debate and discuss EU laws, oversee the work of the European Commission and adopt agenda-setting resolutions.
This week four British MEPs took the lead in backing an Environment Committee resolution calling for stronger EU protections from harmful air pollution.
Well done @juliegirling @SebDance @catherinemep @GreenKeithMEP on your draft motion in EP on Tuesday: ‘A Europe that protects: #CleanAir for all’. Good luck! https://t.co/S2tS7hgxYy and https://t.co/oUV8oQtjPF
— Clean Air in London (@CleanAirLondon) 26 november 2018
Keith Taylor (Green), Seb Dance (Labour), Catherine Bearder (Lib Dems) and Julie Girling (Independent, former Conservative) – were all ‘co-rapporteurs’.
Margherita Tolotto, Clean Air Policy Officer at the EEB said the loss of some British MEPs would be a hit to expertise about air pollution in the European Parliament:
“A number of British MEPs have an excellent understanding of dangerous impact of harmful air pollution on our health and have been real champions for strengthening the crucial EU protections that have forced governments across Europe to act.”
Keith Taylor (Green)
Keith Taylor represents the south-east of England. His constituency includes the city of Brighton where the UK’s only Green MP has her seat, and where he worked for years in local politics. Taylor speaks on behalf of all Green MEPs as their Animals Spokesperson and sits in the Parliament’s transport and environment committees.
Taylor told META that he thought the UK government’s failure to tackle toxic air pollution had increased British members interest in the issue:
“I suspect so many of my compatriots are joining the push for ambitious EU-wide clean air measures because, domestically, the UK government has demonstrated its apathy and repeatedly refused to take the action necessary to face up to the public health crisis. EU action has only become more vital.”
He said that years of work by dedicated campaigners had made air pollution an issue that millions of people are concerned about and warned that EU-wide collaboration and legislation on air quality was “absolutely vital”, adding:
“Air pollution doesn’t carry a passport and it doesn’t respect man-made borders.”
Taylor’s record in supporting stricter EU laws on air quality speaks for itself, in 2016 he was one of only four UK MEPs to back significantly stricter limits on three of the most harmful air pollutants when the EU adopted the National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive – perhaps the most important piece of air quality legislation passed by the current parliament.
Pleased MEPs voted today to back our – heavily British-influenced – resolution ‘Europe protects: Clean air for all’.
While Tory government is apathetic British MEPs are working to make air quality progress at an EU level to protect UK citizens https://t.co/k8m0cpOCFr
— Keith Taylor MEP🦌 (@GreenKeithMEP) 27 november 2018
Seb Dance (Labour)
Seb Dance is the deputy leader of Labour’s MEPs and represents London in the European Parliament. He’s perhaps most famous for standing behind Nigel Farage holding a hand-written sign with the message: “HE’S LYING TO YOU”.
Dance’s website makes clear his commitment to clean air as he lists the issue first in a list of ways he’s “standing up for the people of London”.
Dance’s amendments helped to reach a consensus recognising the damaging impact of intensive livestock agriculture on air quality – an often under-reported cause of Europe’s air pollution crisis.
However, after the resolution was adopted Dance said he was ‘disappointed” right-wing political groups didn’t support his calls for the Parliament to support the rights of cities to implement low Emission Zones and diesel bans. He told ENDs:
“Given the failure of diesel Euro standards to deliver real world emission reductions, vehicle restriction measures are the only tools cities and regions have today to reduce harmful emissions.”
Dance has previously warned about the impact Brexit could have on the UK’s air quality.
Air pollution is the biggest environmental health risk we face in Europe.
The UK govt has repeatedly ignored its commitments under EU law.
The idea Brexit will improve its record is preposterous.
This govt is a danger to our health.
I’m quoted: https://t.co/ORqna0Y7cx
— Seb Dance MEP (@SebDance) 11 september 2018
Julie Girling (Independent, ex-Conservative)
Julie Girling, who was elected to represent South West England and Gibraltar was expelled from the Conservative party for disagreeing with the government’s Brexit policy.
Last month Girling told the Guardian:
“I’ve been a member of the party for more than 40 years, and for 38 of those years the party has been pro-Europe. Then overnight Mrs May decided ‘we are all Brexiteers now’ and that just is a place I just can’t go.”
Girling has taken a keen interest in environmental issues in general and air pollution during her mandate.
She represented the European Parliament during three-way talks with the Commission and national governments ahead of the adoption of the crucial NEC Directive.
While Girling voted against amendments that aimed to strengthen the Directive, she played a crucial role in ensuring the rules gained approval from national capitals, telling EU Observer at the time:
“It’s not a perfect solution, but it will go a long way to making important health improvements for our citizens”
Last year Girling took a swipe at fellow MEP Nigel Farage, accusing him of having shown no interest in the topic of air quality since becoming an MEP:
— Julie Girling #FBPE (@juliegirling) 16 februari 2017
Catherine Bearder (Liberal Democrat)
Catherine Bearder was elected in 2009 to represent the South East England European constituency.
Like Girling, Bearder was heavily involved in negotiations on the NEC Directive but unlike many of her colleagues she also backed stronger limits on key pollutants.
Describing herself as an air quality campaigner, Bearder says:
“Breathing clean air should be a basic human right and not a risk to our human health.”
She told META she was worried about whether the UK’s withdrawal agreement would protect British citizens’ rights to clean air:
“Who will enforce air quality standards after Brexit? The government has been pretty vague about this environmental watchdog.”
Bearder has been calling on future UK governments to respect EU air pollution limits after Brexit for more than two years:
I’m calling on any future UK govt to honour EU agreement I fought for to halve deaths from air pollution https://t.co/NpqQNiov3b
— Catherine Bearder (@catherinemep) 1 juli 2016
The British members Europe won’t miss
Despite coming from four different political parties and holding often drastically diverging views, Taylor, Dance, Girling and Bearder have all demonstrated their commitment to improving European air quality.
Yet while their and some of their colleagues’ contributions will be missed post-Brexit, there is one group of MEPs which ambitious legislation will not miss. Tolotto explained:
“While many hardworking MEPs from different parties have supported cleaner air for all Europeans and worked hard in committee and negotiations, some members have made no effort to improve EU laws and consistently voted against better protections from harmful pollution.”
“When the NEC Directive was adopted, UKIP MEPs voted against all the amendments that could have strengthened the law, before either abstaining or opposing the final Directive.”
“While it’s sad to see the UK leave, we will not miss UKIP.”