Recent Populus research suggests that there is a preference for at least maintaining all of the EU environmental regulations, among a majority of Conservative voters.
How do Conservative voters feel about what happens next?
Environmental concerns feature highly in terms of priorities. A recent Populus poll for Conservative think-tank Bright Blue finds that significant majorities (90% or more) want EU environmental regulations to be maintained or strengthened in the wake of Brexit.
In the run-up to the referendum in June 2016, tempers flared over widely debated topics such as fishing quotas. However, two-thirds (64%) of Conservatives support existing fishing quotas as well as a ban on the production of genetically modified crops.
A significant proportion of Conservatives, including a majority that voted to Leave, reported that they want to strengthen or maintain certain EU environmental regulations:
• Water quality and beach cleanliness standards (96%)
• Protections for habitats and wildlife (93%)
• Air pollution reduction targets (92%)
• Household waste recycling targets (91%)
• Renewable energy generation targets (85%)
• Regulations to increase energy efficiency of household appliances (85%)
• Restrictions on use of pesticides and fertilisers in agriculture (85%)
• Fishing quotas (64%)
• A ban on production of GM crops (63%)
Seven in ten (71%) Conservatives are proud of the UK’s international role in protecting the environment.
The strong support for maintaining or strengthening current environmental regulations stands in contrast to the handful of prominent Conservatives, including the former environment secretary Owen Paterson, who argue that leaving the EU will allow the UK to revamp its rules on the subject.
Rebecca Pow, the Conservative MP for Taunton Deane, who works with Bright Blue on environmental issues, said the findings were not a surprise to her.
“I have found huge support among Conservatives from old to young for protecting our precious environment,” she said. “In this Brexit world we should adopt wholesale the current EU environment legislation relating to areas including water, wildlife, habitats, beaches and climate change and tailor it to our particular needs, as time goes on.
Conservatives have always cared for and been custodians of the environment but this report demonstrates we can be even bolder in our future approach to this area and I shall be working to encourage this endeavour.”
Sam Hall, a senior researcher at Bright Blue who wrote the report based on the polling, said that as parliament prepared to debate the so-called “Great Repeal Bill”, which would shift EU rules into UK law, “there is no mandate from Conservatives to dilute current environmental regulations.”
“Most Conservatives do care about climate change and the natural environment. They support ambitious environmental policies, including closing Britain’s remaining coal-fired power stations to introducing new low-emission zones in air pollution hotspots.
There is a clear mandate from its own voters for the Conservative government to adopt a more ambitious, conservative agenda on the environment.”
The polling was undertaken by Populus in two phases. The first phase, conducted between 12 and 18 January 2017, consisted of 1,033 British adult respondents, who were surveyed online. Using the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, the sample is fully representative of the adult British population according to age, gender, socio-economic grade, and government region.
The second phase of polling was also conducted between 12 and 18 January 2017. This was a booster sample of 1,743 Conservatives, added to the nationally representative poll, to bring the total number of Conservatives up to 2,022. They were also surveyed online.