Brexit is a brutal hurdle to tackling climate change

PUBLISHED: 17:31 14 April 2019 | UPDATED: 17:31 14 April 2019

Green party MP Caroline Lucas speaks to students from the Youth Strike 4 Climate movement during a climate change protest in Brighton. Photograph: Kirsty O'Connor/PA.

Green party MP Caroline Lucas speaks to students from the Youth Strike 4 Climate movement during a climate change protest in Brighton. Photograph: Kirsty O'Connor/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

Caroline Lucas is right - Brexit is not only paralysing our politics, but its consequences will be a massive hurdle to tackling climate change.

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This week it was confirmed that Britain’s Brexit paralysis will extend to Halloween.

But for a drop of hope in a sea of anguish, look to my generation. Haunted by the prospect of spending the rest of our lives in a hellish world ravaged by climate change, we’ve taken to the streets. I’m 16, and our school climate strike makes one thing clear - we won’t sit on the sidelines as today’s leaders sentence us to a future of blazing forests, rising sea levels and plummeting crop yields. Brexit brinkmanship and parliamentary pantomime continue to kick climate change down to the bottom of political priority lists. Ditching it, via a People’s Vote, is the only way to get our political priorities straight.

Our leaders are now behaving like auditioning actors who, despite turning up at the wrong time, to the wrong place, and on the wrong day, are fully committed to the role, and stubbornly put on a brave face.

The PM’s deal is dead. Parliament rejected it by a whopping 230 votes, and polls show widespread public disdain. Even Piers Morgan is more popular than the Withdrawal Agreement. It’s fair to say the thousands of civil servants who could be fighting an imminent global catastrophe are instead being ordered to implement the will of one person: Theresa May.

It’s time our politicians lifted their heads from the sand and realised that the world, and the will of the people, has changed since 2016. Climate change occupies the public consciousness. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s green new deal - once an idea consigned to obscurity - commands droves of support. For those of us wanting to avert disastrous climate change, the EU will soon become a vehicle for global climate action. The atmosphere does not recognise borders. Because of the awareness and activism of my generation, green internationalism will soon be the blood coursing through the veins of British politics. If Brexiteers, blinded by the faded ghost of June the 23rd, don’t see by the next election day that the waters of public opinion have retreated from isolationism, they will be left stranded.

For Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit is the elephant in the room. But soon, if he doesn’t firmly grasp the lifeline out of the Brexit labyrinth a People’s Vote offers, and instead steps into the trap of a customs union deal, Corbyn will learn that the support of my generation is not unconditional. When we, the generation that pushed Corbyn so close to number 10, the generation that have staged the largest climate protests for decades, realise that Labour played a part in enabling Brexit - and that Britain lost its seat on the world stage where we could have driven an agenda of climate reform - the Corbyn project will suffer.

Caroline Lucas is right. Not only is Brexit occupying valuable column inches and paralysing our politics, but the actual, legislative consequences of Brexit will be brutal hurdles to tackling climate change. A model centered around a green new deal - one of billions of pounds of green infrastructure development, higher taxation and ambitious rebuilding will have no space in an isolated, hyper-deregulated, low tax, post-Brexit Britain.

But once a People’s Vote is achieved, the work won’t stop. First, it has to be won. But immediately afterwards, we must recognise that climate change and fights against injustice are deeply connected. Those in Britain and across the world who paid the cost of the 2008 financial crisis will also pay the cost of climate change. In the years to come, a national and international movement of people from all walks of life, all generations, all classes, creeds, and colours must unite around a program that faces the climate disaster of tomorrow, while addressing the injustices of today.

• Athian Akec is a Member of the Youth Parliament and an activist with Our Future, Our Choice.

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