Trying to rebrand as green, the Tories are taking credit for EU policies they tried to block

The history of our EU membership is a story of governments claiming credit for EU achievements on the one hand, and blaming Brussels for their own failings on the other.

For 25 years Tory governments have been blocking environmental improvements in the EU, and now as they attempt to detoxify and rebrand the Conservative Party as environmentally friendly, they are lauding them.

There was of course the headline grabbing ‘war on plastics’ and in particular the extension of the plastic bag charge. But these actions simply meet the requirements of an EU directive and England is just playing catch up with the rest of the UK.

Indeed, just yesterday, the EU Commission launched a new plastics strategy, which puts the Tories rather vague abolition of ‘avoidable’ plastic waste by 2042 to shame.

But not only are the Tories hijacking EU environmental regulations and repackaging them as their own; worse, they are branding their own failure to adhere to EU directives as successes.

The claims by the government in their 25-year plan that the UK has made ‘huge strides to improve the quality of the air we breathe’ should be greeted with an air of disbelief.

Our cities have consistently breached EU air quality standards and it was only successful court action by Client Earth that forced the government to draw up a plan on tackling our poisonous air.

Such court action was only possible because of the EU Air Quality Directive and the consistent failure of the UK to adhere to it.

But it’s not just EU environmental legislation. Last week saw a double whammy of deceitfulness.

Immediately after bagging tackling plastic waste as her own initiative, Theresa May next sought to claim credit for an EU policy to protect consumers from rip-off payment card charges.

Again, it was actually the Economics committee in the European Parliament, which I am a member of, that fought for and won the cap on credit card fees.

As so often, when it comes to EU directives that benefit people and environment, Conservative MEPs have at best been non-committal and at worst set out to sabotage progressive EU legislation.

The Tories can claim they supported the final proposals on credit card charges in the European Parliament, but only after they had worked to seriously water down the original proposals put forward by the Greens and Socialists.

It is always useful to look at what MEPs do to shape and alter proposals; not just how they vote on a final resolution. And when it comes to credit card charges, Conservative MEPs stood clearly with the finance lobby and worked against the interests of consumers.

Meanwhile, back home and with Brexit around the corner, we can only wonder how long the Brextremists in the Conservative Party will tolerate EU directives dictating UK law.

Especially since one of their key motives for leaving the EU was burning ‘red tape’.

On the day Theresa May triggered article 50, the strongly pro-Brexit Daily Telegraph launched its Cut EU Red Tape campaign.

Boris Johnson has led the call to sweep away decades of “burdensome” EU regulations after Brexit; Lord Lawson has called for a massive ‘regulatory cull’ and Jacob Rees-Mogg has said that regulations that are “good enough for India” would be good enough for us, arguing that the UK could go “a very long way” to rolling back high EU standards.

All of which goes to show that we should be wary of Conservative prime ministers brandishing gifts that aren’t theirs to give in the first place; ones that her colleagues in Brussels have tried their best to scupper and her friends back home are keen to destroy.

It is vital that we understand the litany of dishonest Tory claims in the context of Brexit. The history of our membership of the European Union is a story of governments claiming credit for EU achievements on the one hand, and blaming Brussels for their own failings on the other.

No wonder then that when people were asked to vote for the EU many were left unable to find a reason to do so.

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the South West and Green Party speaker on Brexit

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