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Chris Grayling named top green MP by Conservative Environment Network
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Chris Grayling named top green MP by Conservative Environment Network

To the surprise of many, the Conservative Environment Network named their favourite MP as … Chris Grayling.

Despite not being renowned for his action on the environment, the former Cabinet minister was chosen as parliamentarian of the year by the network, which said it was honouring his efforts to tackle deforestation internationally and restore the UK’s vital wildlife habitats.

His particular passion was hedgehogs, and he brought their plight to parliament’s attention on several occasions. He was made a hedgehog “species champion” in an initiative led by the RSPB.

Grayling told the Guardian one of his proudest achievements was securing, from the backbenches, a planning clause that should help hedgehogs. Under the rules, developers can no longer clear a site before they apply for planning permission, a frequently destructive ploy that many used in the past to get rid of hedgerows and other habitats.

“I pushed for this, and I hope it will help protect hedgehogs from reckless developers,” he said.

As the CEN contemplated where the environmental policies of the Conservatives were going after Rishi Sunak watered down net zero commitments, Grayling warned that the current situation was unsustainable.

“We can’t go on in a world where wildlife is steadily being eliminated. We have to turn this around. We have to reverse deforestation. We have to make better provision for habitats in this country. We have to do more to preserve the environment, fundamentally. By definition, Conservatives believe in conservation.”

Grayling will step down as an MP at the next election, along with several other prominent environmentally minded Tories including Sir Alok Sharma, Chris Skidmore and Theresa May. But he believes this green Tory exodus will not leave a gap in parliament. “When I talk to candidates coming through, they are passionate about these issues as well,” he said.

The MP was often better known by the nickname Failing Grayling after presiding as over a series of disasters over nearly a decade in two departments, first at the justice department and then transport, where he cancelled widely supported rail electrification schemes that would have assisted the move to net zero, and awarded a key post-Brexit contract to help keep cross-channel freight links running to a company that had no ferries.

William Hague, giving the Sam Barker memorial lecture at which Grayling received his award, called for the party to reassert its green credentials as a way to win back voters.

He made a veiled swipe at Sunak, who has vowed to “max out” oil and gas extraction from the North Sea, saying: “I’m no Trump-supporting Republican who thinks we should “drill, baby drill”. Long-term energy security can only be delivered by renewables. As Boris Johnson has argued, the UK should aim to become the Saudi Arabia of wind power. Only by investing in renewable energy and the infrastructure to trade electricity with our friends and allies in Europe, can the UK attain true energy security.”

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He appeared to look beyond Sunak, to a potential battle with the right wing over what the party stands for. “Greater action on the environment is becoming even more necessary because climate and nature are becoming ever more intertwined with many of the other great issues that matter most to both our country and our party. The UK’s security, prosperity, and society are all now closely linked to climate and nature policy,” he said. “This means that whatever the future is of conservatism, the environment must remain at its heart.”

Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network, said: “As Lord Hague argued in his lecture, the biggest challenges facing our country today – enhancing our security, growing the economy, tackling immigration, and strengthening society – are all intrinsically linked to the environment. That is why an ambitious, pragmatic plan for reaching net zero and restoring nature must always be a central part of the Conservative Party’s agenda. After all, protecting and enhancing our natural inheritance, and passing it onto future generations to enjoy, is a core conservative instinct.“

The Sam Barker Memorial Prize is named for a former CEN director who died in 2018. Hall called it an important opportunity to celebrate the work of conservative environmentalists in parliament. “We were delighted to award this year’s prize to Chris Grayling MP, who is a genuine and sincere advocate for nature, from tackling deforestation and illegal fishing, to protecting global oceans and iconic British species like hedgehogs. Since leaving the front bench, he has dedicated much of his time in parliament to championing policies to protect and enhance the environment at a local, national, and international level, and rightly deserves to be recognised for his hard work,” he said.

Source: theguardian.com