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The dangers of continental drift

The eternal argument against referendums is that they allow little room for the nuances of a more sophisticated policy forum – such as Parliament.

David Cameron’s commitment this week to an ‘in-out’ vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union – if he wins the next election - carries that risk, especially for the waste sector. Huge changes, many for the batter, have been introduced by the top-down system of EU directives and market-wide standards.

The Prime Minister is right to assert that member states are different and that “we cannot harmonise everything”. His speech on Wednesday specifically mentioned the environment as an area “we need to examine whether the balance is right”.

But can we honestly say, for example, that the progress in eliminating landfill would have been as significant if Westminster was solely responsible? Health and safety regulations are a favourite target for Eurosceptics  - again, would ministers on their own have addressed as closely one of the most challenging aspects of the waste industry?

And then there is the uncertainty that the PM has introduced at a stroke. Investors in the business of UK waste increasingly take a view of risk and return from a European and global perspective. It’s too early to know if that would be undermined by a change of relationship with the EU – but it must be considered a real possibility.

It is not for MRW to take political sides in the coming debate. But it can legitimately take a view that our sector has done well by being firmly inside the EU - and greener British ministers have benefited from using EU policies to lever changes here at home. Any changes politicians choose to make to the existing relationship must acknowledge what has been changed for the better during our 40 years of membership. Leaving cannot be used to unpick that which has helped transform the waste sector.

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