Transcript: Podship Earth Episode 021: UNTIED KINGDOM

JARED BLUMENFELD: Welcome to Podship Earth. This is your host, Jared Blumenfeld. 

NEWS CLIP: The official results are in. The people of Britain have spoken, voting for a British exit dubbed “Brexit” with almost 52 percent of the votes choosing to leave the 28-member European Union. 

JARED BLUMENFELD: If you want to understand how we ended up in a world where politicians can lie with impunity, where public opinion polling no longer can predict the election results and where our politics turned inward and ugly, you need to start with Brexit.  June 2016 was the month that changed everything. Britain's vote was so shocking because it was a self-inflicted wound of a populace that felt like it deserved more than the immigrants were to blame for the demise of Great Britain. Less than five months later, Donald Trump used a nearly identical playbook to win the presidency. The Brexit map to victory was reached by winning over rural voters, older voters, and those in the form of manufacturing centers of northern England. The leave campaign made false promises to bring back money to the UK that had been going to Europe. The state campaign was very successful in London and with young voters. While the vote to leave the 28 nation European Union happened two years ago, progress in defining what that actually means has met a number of roadblocks. This week, Podship Earth is in Britain to hear directly from voters across the political spectrum on the social and environmental impacts of Brexit. I start in northern England where I talk with Laura Sanderson outside an industrial park in Rotterdam where 68 percent of locals voted to leave Europe.   Laura, where do you live? 

 

LAURA SANDERSON: At Bond's lane, South Yorkshire. Further up than London North. A northerner.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: What's the difference between the northern and the southern? 

 

LAURA SANDERSON: You'd probably have to ask a southerner, but northerners are a lot better than southerners. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Did you vote in the Brexit election?

 

LAURA SANDERSON: I did, yeah.

JARED BLUMENFELD: And what did you vote?

 

LAURA SANDERSON: I voted to leave.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: And, are we leaving?

 

LAURA SANDERSON: Yeah, it probably won’t happen for a while, but eventually we will leave hopefully. It can't be any worse than it is now, can it.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: What’s the worst thing now? 

 

LAURA SANDERSON: Nothing's great, is it? 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: What was your reason? 

 

LAURA SANDERSON: Because then surely we can run our own country rather than having it run by someone else. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: If there's one thing you hope gets better?

 

LAURA SANDERSON: That would be a national health system, hospitals and everything, because they're not getting a lot of money at the moment, so hopefully more money could be put to them to make them a lot better and the care for people there. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: What about the environment? Do you think it’ll be better off? 

 

LAURA SANDERSON: I do think it'll be better off. Yeah. Like I said, it can't be any worse than it is now. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Laura’s sentiment that Britain is at hit rock bottom and that any change is better than the status quo is a view shared by many who voted for Brexit and it bears a striking similarity to the views of President Trump's base. Next, I travel down to the London Borough of Haringey in which 74 percent voted to remain in Europe. I talked to Stewart Waldorf who's dropping off his granddaughter at a local elementary school. How did you vote in the Brexit vote and how are you feeling two years after Brexit? 

 

STEWART WALDORF: I think it’s the biggest mistake. I hate people telling me, well, it's democratic. Cause democracy in Greece meant if you change your mind, you had another vote, and that's what I think we should be doing. I don't know that we would win the vote even now because it's still bloody-minded stupid people. I think we've had 70 years of European peace. My parents were involved in the Second World War and I'd hate for that to happen again. For Germany and France to have become allies instead of sworn enemies. Yeah. People say to me, we have to during the Second World war on our own, but we didn't. We got loads of freebies from America. We're not going to get them again and we can't provide our own food. So, we've got to trade internationally and now there’s a big trading block. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: As you can hear from Laura and Stewart, even two years after Brexit, emotions are still running high. Next, I travel to the countryside of Kent, which is the breadbasket of England, and it's also one of the counties closest to the English Channel. You can practically see France. Kent voted 59 percent to leave Europe. I met up with two friends on opposite sides of the Brexit fence. Richard Atkins, a third-generation farmer, and Gordon Clark, a builder. Richard, how did you vote in the Brexit vote? 

 

RICHARD ATKINS: I voted out.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: And Gordon?

 

GORDON CLARK: I voted in. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Excellent. So, we’ve got an in and an out. And you remain friends?

 

RICHARD ATKINS: Absolutely. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: What motivated you to vote for the UK to leave the European Union, Richard? 

RICHARD ATKINS: I voted out purely because I am tired of people who I have not elected, who I do not know, telling this country what to do. And I do not want any longer this country to be told what to do by these people who cannot even organize themselves properly. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Gordon, what motivated you?

GORDON CLARK: I had a different thing to Richard. My feeling was that provided we keep Europe with us, then it's going to be a better state. I'm British through and through, but Europe is too close to forget about it. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: So, Richard, you come from three generations of farmers. The Kentish wield this whole area. It’s famous for its farming. Can Britain survive without all the customers in Europe? 

 

RICHARD ATKINS: Most of the customers are in this country, but we are able to spread our wings and recently the dairy industry, which is struggling, has started to sell fresh milk to places like Qatar and also, they are now beginning to sell to China because the Chinese like the fact that it is a good clean product. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD:Isn't it easier to sell to France? 

RICHARD ATKINS: But not at the price. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD:So, they're not willing to pay the price that British farmers need to survive? 

RICHARD ATKINS: Exactly. British farmers are always having to find new markets because the subsidies which are paid to the British farmers are being reduced and reduced and reduced as they are across Europe, but it's not enough to live on, so we have always had to adapt, find new markets, find new ways of production. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Joking aside, gentleman, has it split families apart and communities? 

 

RICHARD ATKINS: What I will say is the younger generations, such as my children all voted to stay in because they couldn't see any other way of surviving. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: And how did, when you told them that you voted to leave, were they upset with you? 

 

RICHARD ATKINS: They just probably thought I was a silly old man and wasn't looking to the future, but it has made no difference to our relationship

whatsoever.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: But did it put a little bit of a chill on, not on yours, but on any relationship? 

 

RICHARD ATKINS: It obviously has done, but probably with politics, affected more than anything else. 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Brexit is just ridiculously confusing, like it just goes on and on and on. It's like, is there Brexit fatigue? 

 

RICHARD ATKINS: Absolutely. I think a lot of British people are getting very concerned that this is taking far too long. They are also thinking that we might give up too much so and if we do give up too much, what's the point of leaving anyway. And yes, I believe it has split some families, but personally family ties are stronger than Brexit. They should be. We are British. We adapt and that's how I feel. We have always had to adapt. We are an island nation and I think that is one of our strengths. We are not bordered by anybody else and it's a case of let's put the great back in Great Britain as far as I'm concerned and let's get out. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: It may be an ambition to remove ourselves from Europe, but it doesn't seem very practical. 

 

GORDON CLARK: No, I think if anything is going to be a problem, it's trying to stay on our own with the use of so many things in Europe that we need and to say forget about them. 

JARED BLUMENFELD: It seems like everything's been put on hold until Brexit get sorted out and Brexit doesn't seem to be getting sorted out. So, it seems now like a big distraction. 

 

RICHARD ATKINS: I totally agree with you. I feel that in England we have got a bit lazy. We have, specially within the farming community, have become very reliant as, as the NHS on our eastern European friends to come over and do all the manual labor of picking the fruit, strawberries, raspberries, apples, and helping harvest all our crops. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: You have fruit dying on the vine because there's no one to pick it. In America, Americans aren't willing to go and do that manual labor. So, it's not like that the immigrants are taking their jobs. No one’s now doing the job. What's happening in Kent?

RICHARD ATKINS: The English people have forgotten how to do it and they are not prepared to do it. They’re much more prepared to sit on their backsides, take the money from the states in benefits and not get out there and support themselves. Whereas the eastern Europeans, they are very good at working. They are very good at harvesting and virtually every farm around here will have some people from Europe coming over every year to do the harvest. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Isn't it a little bit of a confusing message if you're sitting in an eastern European country, and you hear England doesn't want to be part of Europe, but we need you to pick the fruit and work in the farms?

 

RICHARD ATKINS: I understand there are fewer coming over because of the confusion. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: To understand the perspective of someone who is on the receiving end of that confusing message, I talk with Henryk Hetflaisz.

Henry, where were you born?

 

HENRYK HETFLAISZ: I was born in Poland. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: And how long have you lived in the UK now? 

HENRYK HETFLAISZ: Eighteen years all together. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: How many Polish people do you think have come to the UK? 

 

HENRYK HETFLAISZ: Since Polish succession to the Common Market, about a million is estimated right now. How many have come back, I have no idea.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: What kind of things do Polish people do in the UK? 

 

HENRYK HETFLAISZ: There’s nursing, a lot of waiting stuff, but also basic things like fruit picking and food management and processing. Yes. Huge numbers of them that are all around the country. 

JARED BLUMENFELD: What was it like when you first came to the UK?  

HENRYK HETFLAISZ: I had an idea and a feeling when I first came here of people being very accepting, not caring exactly, but any labeling of you just as long as you have a contribution, they were welcoming. Well, this was revised somewhat. 

JARED BLUMENFELD: So, what is the feeling now? 

HENRYK HETFLAISZ: People don't feel welcome with all the vandalisms and people were battered just for the fact that were foreign. And with that comes from, as many sources of course frustrations, competition and all of that. And it's always easy to put the onus on someone else when we feel we haven't achieved our own goals. That's a human tendency simply, and that's being abused politically leading to this, and people see that and feel it. They actually experience it. So, many leave for that reason.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Are you attempted to leave and go back to Poland? 

 

HENRYK HETFLAISZ: I quickly realize one thing, my old Britain still with those numbers, these results are much better than in Poland where I feel unwelcome by the self-confessed 90 percent of the Catholic population there because they disapprove of homosexuality. It’s a sinful thing still, and I just felt that pressure there, don't feel it here. I still feel much more at home here than I ever felt there. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Simple solutions in an ever increasingly interconnected and complex world are elusive, and yet the appetite for these quick fixes is alive and well in both the UK and the US. Next, I talk with Paul Mcnamee, the head of Politics for Green Alliance and Greener UK, which is a group of 13 major environmental organizations, with a combined membership of over 8 million supporters. These groups believe that leaving the EU is a pivotal moment to restore and enhance the UK environment. So Paul, many people are absolutely clueless as to what Brexit means. They read about it in the newspaper, they heard about a lot two years ago. What was Brexit and what's happening now? 

 

PAUL MCNAMEE: It's a really good question. The people who don't know what Brexit is, many of them are sitting in the houses commenting on site as well. So, after the 2015 election, a strong grouping of conservatives wanted us out of Europe and the answer to that was to have a referendum. So once the 2015 election had happened, Cameron happened to put forward this referendum, which he did so in 2016, and the government supported remaining in the EU. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: So, what, what is the European Union? 

 

PAUL MCNAMEE: So, the European Union is a group of 28 countries across Europe, so the UK and 27 others, what we call member states who farmer packed, that is based on four freedoms, which is the freedom of movement of labor, freedom of movement of money, the freedom of movement of goods, and the freedom of movement of services. So, based on those four freedoms, these 28 countries kind of share a trading economy between them. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: So, this was a referendum on getting rid of those freedoms. 

 

PAUL MCNAMEE: We still wanted to engage with these other countries, it was just about the specific form of the European Union or whether the UK

should be part of that. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Was anyone talking about environmental issues in the whole Brexit discussion? 

 

PAUL MCNAMEE: Uh, despite our best efforts, I have to admit, no, I think it's safe to say that the environment did not appear very much in the

referendum campaign at all. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Most of the UK laws on the environment were laws that originated in Europe. 

 

PAUL MCNAMEE: Yeah. So over 70 percent of our current environmental standards come from the EU. I would say there are certain risks that arise from Brexit for the environment. There are also some opportunities. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: If someone said in any country, Paul, the US, France, Canada, anywhere, overnight 70 percent of the environmental laws on the books will disappear, that’s startling. 

 

PAUL MCNAMEE: Yeah, but they're not going to disappear in reality. And what we've seen is the withdrawal bill, which is a piece of legislation to bring over the current not just environmental standards, all the current standards in the EU bringing them over into domestic law.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Doesn't each bill require implementing legislation? You can't just do one bill for the air quality, the wildlife, the water quality, because they have different delegations. I mean the mechanics of how you implement environmental law will have to be rewritten in a non-European Union context. 

 

PAUL MCNAMEE: So yeah, there are some gaps. So, one is environmental principles, like the precautionary principle, the environmental impact principle, the polluter pays principle. So, because they're not actual standards or regulations, they've not necessarily been brought over with the withdrawal bill. The second gap is the governance gap. So, this is about how the laws are implemented. It's about advising, it's about monitoring and probably most importantly it’s about enforcing. So, if we lose that function that the European Commission currently provides, we'd end up with what we would call Zombie legislation where it's written on the statute book, but there's no way to implement it. A new governance body or bodies will be needed to implement these laws that come across, but parliament needs to have a close watch to make sure that none of those changes are made and affects the essence of those laws or what those laws are actually trying to achieve.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: How's the environment remaining relevant given all the other Brexit challenges?

 

PAUL MCNAMEE: Environment as a political issue is actually getting a lot more attention than it has done in the past 10 years. So, there was an election in 2017 where the conservatives lost their majority and polling that came out straight after, which surprised even us, said that climate and environment where for under 35, the top two issue and for under 24 year-olds, climate change was the number one issue for 24 year-olds. So more than housing, more than health, that's what they cared about. So actually, in terms of what the governments are doing and what the government are thinking about the minutes, we know that the environment is right in the center of their thinking.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Paul, is Brexit a distraction from dealing with real environmental issues? 

 

PAUL MCNAMEE: I would say it's really hard to disentangle the two. The UK is signed up to the Paris agreement through the EU. And so now, what kind of role do we have to play as a climate leader in the world? So, the two are intertwined and particularly on the decline in nature. I'd say many environmentalists will agree that one of the major advantages to leaving the EU will be that we are no longer in what's called the common agricultural policy CAP for short, we think that overall CAP has encouraged practices that haven't necessarily been the best for nature of the environment. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: So, Paul, on agricultural policy, there's an opportunity through Brexit to actually improve environmental standards. 

 

PAUL MCNAMEE: Yeah, so we're expecting before the summer recess, an agriculture bill, which will basically be an opportunity to start designing a brand -new land management and farming system for the UK. 

JARED BLUMENFELD: That's kind of cool. 

 

PAUL MCNAMEE: It's kind of a mixed bag all the time and we just have to make sure that we're identifying the issues that that may be a risk to the UK and making sure that we're kind of trying to come up with solutions to issues that may arise.  

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: I mean I came into this interview thinking it was all bleak, but there are actual opportunities. 

 

PAUL MCNAMEE: There are some opportunities. I think it's been a hard slog so far. So, it's two years since the referendum and we've had to do quite a lot of work just making sure that environmental standards are the same when they come across and that no gaps arise. But yes, there are definite

opportunities, both kind of in terms of environmental policy, but also for want of a better word, the instability of politics at the minute, means that there are also really, really good opportunities. So, what we're saying is when this new bill comes through that will do the governance and the principals, we’re saying that needs to go further, that needs to be a new environment act that will be a world leading act for the for nature and the environment, that will restore nature and that will allow the UK to be a world leader in how it governs its natural environment.                  

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: So, is there a lot of Brexit fatigue? 

 

PAUL MCNAMEE: You can't live through a more exciting two-year period. We've had, you know, a referendum. We've had the fall out, we've had a general election, we've had constant battles between factions of all parties in the UK. We're seeing kind of constitutional questions rising that have never had to be answered before. I think a lot of books are going to be written about this two-year period. So, it's quite exciting to have lived through them. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: In the US, I think the environment is now perceived as a partisan issue. Whereas in the UK, what do you think leads the UK to have a conservative government that cares about the environment? 

 

PAUL MCNAMEE: Unlike the US, I don't think that environment was ever abandoned by either side, the left or the right. I think they both come at it from different ways. The left, very much kind of progressive protecting of the environment. The conservative party, which is the center right, very old school conservation conservatives, stewards of the landscape, they mostly represent rural constituencies, rural towns, rural people, and so they see themselves as kind of the party of the rural UK. And we have 650 MPS in our parliament. Only five MPS voted against the climate change act. So even

back then there was that cross- party support, but I think also a lot of work had gone in to making sure that that cross-party support existed. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: So, given where we are now, what is your biggest fear about Brexit and the environment? What could still go wrong? 

PAUL MCNAMEE: So, the biggest thing that could go wrong, I would say would be a no deal Brexit. Negotiations are still ongoing where we're kind of agreeing on a transition agreement, what the withdrawal will look like and then what our future relationship with the EU will look like. If all of that collapses, and we just end up leaving the EU, that will be a disaster for environmental standards and protections. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: And when will you know whether there's a no deal Brexit or not?

 

PAUL MCNAMEE: We should be seeing a white paper next week on the withdrawal. Hopefully, that will give a clear indication that no deal is off the cards. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Stanley Johnson has been a member of the European Parliament. He headed the European Commission's pollution division and he was just made into a reality TV star in the UK. He's written dozens of novels and books on the Environment and he chaired Environmentalists for Europe, which argued for Britain staying in the European Union. Stanley's son, Boris Johnson, was the chief architect and champion for Britain leaving Europe. Boris is now the UK Foreign Secretary. Stanley, I saw you on tv the evening of the Brexit vote and at that time everyone thought your side had one. 

 

STANLEY JOHNSON: Well, we thought we were going to win. Yeah, you're absolutely right. I set up an organization called Environmentalists for Europe. It is true, we fought very hard, but that was not the way they turned out. I'm seeing, okay, we are leaving, so, what is the priority? The priority is making sure that all those good things which were put in place over 40 years, because we have been in Europe for 40 years, are retained. What matters now is to make sure that we retain, or we create somehow the enforcement and reporting mechanisms which we had in the European context. You know, if the worst came to the worst, the European Commissioner could challenge the government for failing to implement any EU environmental curriculum. You could even take the, you know, the country to court. You would have a ruling from the court of Justice. You can have a fine imposed. So, we need to work out how we do that, and we also need to be sure that when we do, we don't lose the energy and the dynamism which came from being part of that whole European construct. We need to make sure that we keep going ahead with environmental measures. We are, I should say, in a completely Brexit dominated situation in Britain. We got used to the European institutions saying, look frankly, you have all these laws, take air quality in London. An extra 4,000 deaths a year in London as a result of, and maybe 20,000 in the country as a whole, and the issue was, why have we not implemented EU air pollution laws? And a gentleman called James Thornton has been over here and he's set up the Climate Earth.  And Climate Earth on the NRDC model decided it would take our government to court for failing to implement EU laws. Brilliant, totally brilliant, and he’s has now had three judgments from our own legal or highest legal authority, which I think is the supreme court, but nevertheless that dimension is vital. And that dimension of course will disappear. Boris is getting more and more interested in this whole environmental thing. For example, he is going to be chairing later this year, the third international conference on illegal trade in wildlife. It’s concentrating, of course, on the elephant ivory, which is completely, completely top of top of the range of our concerns, although there's also plenty of other illegal trade issues like you know, the Rhino issue. And actually, coming up the road knows is hippopotamus teeth. Anyway, Boris is seized of all these things which is good, which is good. If you think about, you know, the trajectory of the African elephant population, way back in about 1975, you had 1.4 million African elephants and now we're down to less than probably less than, fewer than 300,000, something like that. Why did it go so wrong? For my money, it went wrong because at a vital moment we failed to implement the international ban on the trade. What we're fighting now is to try and close the market down and it's is, I’ll put it this way, we're virtually there.  Ironically, the United Kingdom remains one of the largest trading countries for ivory. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: I didn't realize that. 

 

STANLEY JOHNSON: Why? Because there's an exemption in the law as implemented, which says pre- 1947 ivory can be traded, and that of course has been a fantastic incentive to antique dealers and so on. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Unbelievable that still selling ivory and calling it antiques in the UK. Talking about wildlife, when you were in the European Parliament, you had a major role in stopping the Canadian seal hunt. Maybe tell us a little bit about that.

 

STANLEY JOHNSON: We were killing about three or 400,000 seals at that time, a year, and they were harp seals for the most part, but also hooded seals. 80 percent were coming to the EU countries, the European countries, so I said to myself, well, if we can get an EU ban on the import of seal products coming into Europe, that may really impact on the hunt. And that's precisely what happened and that was a very good example of how you know you can pick a target and achieve that target by using public opinion. There were wonderful moments as we had victory after victory and finally that ban is still in place and it has been challenged on more than one occasion. 

                                     

JARED BLUMENFELD: The US and the UK used to work together closely on environmental issues. Stanley, is that being lost? 

 

STANLEY JOHNSON: I can remember April the 22nd, 1970. I went to New York and I participated in the first Earth Day. For us, a lot of the inspiration of for environmental policy in Britain came from America. That's where for me, that's where that movement began and there's been many, many inspirational movements which have come from America. I mean if I think of the ozone issue, for example. Europe was very reluctant to move on the ozone and if it hadn't been for Jimmy Carter's administration. They really made it one of their main diplomatic initiatives to try and bring Britain and the UK and the EU as a whole on board, and that's why we eventually got the ozone convention in the Montreal political. So, there's been a sort of constantly productive interchange between the US and the UK and Europe on the environment. Whether he'll be part of this great move to try and bring the United States back into, for example, the Paris convention, I do not know. Trump is not making any kind of noise. We had Macron the other day coming over, being asked here on television, will Mr. Trump rejoin Paris? And Macron saying, well, if he does, he doesn't think he's going to get a renegotiation out of Paris. I mean he was being very firm on that and that's an interesting point I think.  We must not think there's got to be a reopening of the Paris convention in order to bring the US in. It'll be Paris or nothing.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: So, your latest book, Kompromat.

 

STANLEY JOHNSON: My latest book is called Kompromat.Apparently, it's just been picked up in the Oxford dictionary of English as a new addition to the vocab. I thought to myself, it’s perfectly obvious that the Russians were fairly heavily involved with the US election, but were they also involved in all UK referendum on the Europe side? I've had real fun writing a thriller which is going to be made into a six-part TV series in Britain. 

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Thanks to Laura Sanderson and Stewart Waldorf, Richard Atkins, Gordon Clark, Henryk Hetflaisz, Paul McNamee, and Stanley Johnson for helping me understand everything I wanted to know, but it was previously afraid to ask about Brexit. Traveling around England this week, I was struck by how emotionally charged the Brexit vote remains. On the positive side, I witnessed the beginnings of what could be a British environmental resurgence. Unlike the US, where the Trump administration is extremely anti-environmental, in the UK, the post-Brexit conservative agenda includes the consensus to push for stronger environmental laws. It shows that a very different path is achievable even in the US. Next week, we examine why mainstream media outlets are willing to have sport, weather, and traffic every hour, but can barely cover environmental issues once a month. When climate change stories are covered, we question why editors are giving equal weight to climate deniers in the name of impartiality. Talking of impartiality, please like our show on the Apple’s Podship Earth page. Thank you so much for being part of the journey. From the entire Podship Earth crew, sound engineer, Rob Spate, producer Nancy Ferranti, executive producer David Kahn, and me, Jared Blumenfeld, have a great week and don't forget to exit through the chip shop.