July Political Intelligence
July 2019 brought us a number of jaw-dropping moments. Multiple heatwaves with the highest ever UK temperature recorded in Cambridge hitting 38.5 °C, Boris Johnson elected as Leader of the UK Conservative Party and subsequently the new Prime Minister, and the UK encapsulated in various international disputes, with Iran seizing a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, and with the US over leaked emails leading to Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch’s resignation.
In the final push before the House entered recess for summer, environmentally concerned MPs such as Mary Creagh MP maintained the pressure on the government and the industry in order to ensure that fashion and sustainability were top issues. Aided by questions relating to ‘Fast Fashion’ in the Commons, and a question on the ‘Textiles and Clothing Sectors: Environmental Sustainability’ in the Lords, ’fashion’ was mentioned 56 times across both Houses in July.
In the Lords, Baroness Jones of Whitchurch asked the Government “what steps they [were] taking to improve the environmental sustainability of the textiles and clothing sectors”, to which the DEFRA Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Lord Gardiner of Kimble responded that they “were working with WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) and the industry through the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan to deliver environmental sustainability”. Gardiner also highlighted that the Government had recently launched a £4.7 million grant scheme to support innovation in plastic and textile recycling.
In the Commons on the final day before recess, Thursday 25 July, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) had an Oral Questioning session. Raising topics such as Climate Change Adaptation, Air Quality, Plastic Pollution and Fast Fashion, this was an opportunity for cross party MPs to hold the government to account on their recent record on the environment.
On Fast Fashion, Mary Creagh MP Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee asked “What plans the Government [had] to reduce the (a) environmental and (b) social impact of fast fashion?”. Five months since the release of the EAC’s report into ‘Fixing Fast Fashion’ the government have continued to reject the 18 recommendations.
On the responding side of the Oral Questions was newly appointed DEFRA Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers MP, who was appointed to her position only the day prior to questioning.
In response, Villiers stated that the “Government will be working through the Waste and Resources Action Programme”, while also “developing an ambitious new phase of the sustainable clothing action plan”. However as reiterated by Creagh, these measures are too shallow and slow, in order to prevent the fast fashion epidemic and truly aid environmental sustainability.
As raised by Sue Hayman MP, the new Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers has repeatedly voted against measures to protect the environment and tackle climate change. In the last ten years, Villiers has voted 11 times against measures to prevent climate change, in addition to 9 absences. She has also generally voted against financial incentives for low carbon emission electricity generation methods, against greater regulation of fracking and always for new high speed rail infrastructure. Her appointment will be viewed by environmentalists as a hindrance and a step in the wrong direction, rather than moving forwards.
Mary Creagh MP continued to raise the profile of sustainability in the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) evidence giving session, in which Chair of the Committee on Climate Change and former Secretary of State for Environment, Rt Hon Lord Deben John Gummer and Chair of Natural England Tony Juniper CBE gave evidence.
The Committee hearing provided much thought provoking information, and focused largely on the Committee on Climate Change’s recent report ‘Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’. Gummer and Juniper agreed that the Government’s current approach was incoherent and inconsistent, both urging governmental departments to unite.
However as has been reiterated, DEFRA’s budget has been continuously slashed from a generous £3.1 billion in 2008, to £1.6 billion in 2018, meaning their budget is now currently less than 1% of the overall government budget.
Such has resulted in a £40million gap between DEFRA’s actual budget, and what is realistically required in order to comprehensively implement measures to halt or reverse climate change. In order to implement the government’s 25 year Environmental Plan, Juniper estimated they would require an extra £100-300million.
In addition to formal parliamentary debates and hearings, many external events relating to the fashion industry and sustainability also took place in July.
The APPG for Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion is relaunching in the autumn to address Modern Day Slavery in fashion, the effects of Brexit and the EAC report chaired by Baroness Lola Young; with Fashion Roundtable and the Centre for Sustainable Fashion sharing secretariat responsibilities.
Additionally, Fashion Roundtable assisted at two APPG for Textiles and Fashion Events, for which they provide the secretariat.
The first, an event held in collaboration with Fashion Enter concentrated on securing Visas and Employment in the garment manufacturing sector following Brexit. Speakers included Caroline Nokes MP, Minister of State for Immigration, Professor Jonathan Portes, Senior Fellow at The UK in a Changing Europe and Lord Young of Norwood Green.
The second was an event held at the prestigious V&A, featuring speakers such as Director of the V&A Tristam Hunt, Dame Eleanor Laing MP, Deputy Speaker and Edwina Ehrman, Senior Curator of Fashion at the V&A. The event offered stimulating discussion regarding culture within fashion, while the speakers also offered methods which should be employed in the pursuit of sustainable fashion.
Fashion Roundtable also attended the launch for the APPG on Creative Diversity, which aims to be a positive, proactive and authentic catalyst for change, desperately needed in an industry which is so evidently London-centric, unrepresentative for BAME, and male dominated.
Despite these steps forward new cross-party parliamentary groups demanding diversity, equality and sustainability in the fashion industry, politicians increasingly mentioning fashion and sustainability in the house, 71% of the British public stating that environmental wellbeing is more of a pressing issue than Brexit and green activist groups such as Extinction Rebellion rapidly increasing their support base, it remains evident that environmentalists and governmental institutions continue to endure immense pressure by being squeezed financially, and are ultimately failing to be treated as a government priority. Despite a plethora of impassioned individuals leading the fight against environmental degradation, without sufficient funding their environmental goals and endeavours will struggle to achieve full fruition.
The election of Boris Johnson casts further worry for those in the fashion industry concerned by environmental wellbeing. Despite a clear reaction against his politics and principles; Greenpeace protesters blocking his drive to Buckingham Palace on his visit to the Queen, and various top cabinet members such as Philip Hammond and Jeremy Hunt resigning on the day of Johnson's ascension to premiership, we wonder how much of a priority the environment will be to a politician who has consistently prioritised business and economic interests, and now focuses almost exclusively on the UK’s departure from the EU.
In this politically volatile and insecure time, with a no deal Brexit on the horizon and increasing international friction, the opportunity for issues surrounding sustainability and environmental wellbeing to maintain a position of political priority by policy makers is seemingly dim.