I know that many of you will have been suffering what feels like a physical blow from the results and fall out of the referendum. Whatever the wider politics of the debate, you have been working for years to protect our wildlife, climate, clean air and water. I expect some of you feel (as I have done intermittently) that this work is now not only at grave risk – but also that that it is somehow now not wanted by our much-loved country.
Please think through this last point again and then carefully, and systematically reject it. There is no mandate from this referendum to make our country dirtier, our housing shoddier, our water more polluted. There has been no vote to destroy our woodlands and meadows. There was no question on the ballot paper asking us if we wanted to tear up our obligations to cut climate pollution and stop co-operating with our neighbours and friends to tackle the impacts of extreme weather.
The overwhelming majority of our fellow-citizens love nature. They are concerned to make sure that we leave a planet that is safe and prosperous for our children. They are more than willing to contribute towards solving international environmental problems if this is done fairly and with their active involvement and consent.
In the coming months, there will be a group of people arguing that the referendum gives them permission to tear up protections for which the people of this country have fought for years. It does not.
They will claim that the current economic uncertainty (upon which they thrive) can only be fixed by a regulatory race to the bottom – a bonfire of laws that protect people and nature. In reality such a race will make us poorer – as well as making us less healthy and secure and damaging our traditions and heritage.
Resist these people. They did not win a general election. They were on the winning side in a referendum about our relationship with the European Union, not our relationship with nature. We must not allow them to conduct a political land-grab, based on the outcome of a campaign that they barely expected to succeed, and which many of them treated like a sixth form common room game. This is our country. We deserve better.
Nor should we spend our time futilely arguing about whether there will or will not be another referendum, or if and when we will invoke Article 50. I have no idea what the final outcome of this situation will be. But I do know that we will never secure the settlement we need from our parliament and future government if we don’t focus on the future – and build alliances of ‘inners’ and ‘outers’ who can take control of this unexpected revolution on behalf of the people and communities of our country, whatever their attitudes to the EU.
There are many currents of thought and feeling in the case for ‘Leave’ that we can all understand and respect. A desire for more power to rebuild local economies and invest in local services. A mistrust of the untrammelled operation of international capitalism. A feeling that we have the resilience to weather storms and be self-reliant.
Many friends, family and colleagues took the decision to vote out because they believed they were doing the right thing for the country. In doing so, very few of them imagined they were voting for the cleansing fire of the market to be let lose yet again, to further erode the ties that bind them, the quality of their working lives and the beauty and richness of their countryside.
So let’s get to work. Our country is in peril. We must not hand it over to the bully-troops of neo-conservatism. Let’s argue for a new settlement that reflects the best of our country – its long history of environmental leadership on the international stage and its deep-seated love of nature.