This blog was originally published in The Times

Beccy Speight, CEO, RSPB and Emma Rose, Co-director, Unchecked UK

Today, 40 organisations across the UK have published a letter, calling on Conservative leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to commit to high standards and commonsense protections, and to ensure that UK regulators have the capacity to enforce the rules.

The letter, which was signed by a diverse organisations across civil society, sets out our shared concerns about the future of key social and environment protections in the UK.

Throughout the challenges of the last few years, the environment has consistently remained one of the top three issues for the public. The nature and climate emergency is on our doorstep and people are concerned that the wildlife they love is vanishing and the wild spaces they cherish are under threat.

There have been positive moves by political leaders, in recent years, to address the nature and climate emergency, and to include environmental protection as part of the wider political focus on the regeneration of towns and local green spaces. Both leadership candidates have spoken of their passion for the environment, and their record in supporting nature’s restoration for future generations, by making good on the Government’s commitment to halt nature’s decline by 2030.

However, there are valid concerns that in a leadership race characterised by anti-regulation rhetoric there has been no clear statement that the laws, which the UK wrote and championed and which have been vital to protecting some of our most vulnerable wildlife for the last 30 years, could be among those at risk of being lost without an equivalent or improved replacement.

This deregulatory rhetoric risks jeopardising the UK’s reputation as a world leader in high standards. What’s more, it has the potential to seriously undermine the Government’s stated environmental ambitions at a time when we need strong leadership to keep our common species common and prevent more of our wildlife from being pushed to the brink of extinction.

A mandate from the people to save nature

There is every reason to believe that moves to weaken regulatory safeguards will not be supported by the very audiences the government needs to win over at the next General Election.

Research conducted by Unchecked UK shows that support for common-sense protections is strong among swing voters in every constituency, including the so-called ‘Red Wall’ and ‘Blue Wall’, which we will expect to see hotly contested. This is a fundamental issue about the future direction of our nation, and as we have all recently experienced the reality of hotter and drier summers, one that all of us are seeking urgent action to address.

Both candidates will be aware of the support for environmental protection within their own party. 81% of younger Conservative Leave voters think environmental regulation should be maintained or increased. Our future Prime Minster, and all Party leaders, will be noting that voters across the spectrum show support for reversing funding cuts to environmental regulatory bodies.

The public wants to be confident that the air they breathe is clean, that the rivers their children play in are healthy, that their precious local natural spaces are protected. Even UK businesses have not tended to greet past deregulatory moves with wholesale enthusiasm, instead calling for a stable regulatory framework and flagging that it is often the application of regulations, rather than the laws themselves, which adds procedural complexity.

Strong rules: a force for good

The pursuit of deregulation overlooks the fact that rules are put in place for a reason, often on the back of tragic events, or to protect those things we value most from exploitation. It is time that we delivered on the country we have said we want to be, one where nature is thriving and we can all enjoy the benefits of our green and pleasant land. We need our Prime Minister to be the custodian of this responsibility, and for measures to put in place which ensure future Governments stay true to this mission.

We – and our other letter co-signatories – believe that strong, well-designed regulations are a force for good, ensuring that the UK remains a world-leader in social and environmental standards. Strong protections will support moves to ‘level up’ the country – helping to drive up standards in local communities, and underpin government efforts to establish high-quality jobs for every working person. They offer security for the more vulnerable members of society, and create a level playing field that allows businesses to thrive. And, at a time when people’s incomes are being squeezed, strong rules can provide a guarantee that basic quality and safety standards are being met – regardless of income.

As we, and our colleagues, articulated in our letter: “this is the vision of the UK which we know is supported by the public. We urge the leadership candidates to ensure that any changes to our regulations will be undertaken with a view to turning this vision into a reality.”