Sun 28 February 2021

Some MPs can see past Brexit to the bigger issue of saving the planet, reports Stephen Colegrave, who headed to Parliament for an Extinction Rebellion meeting on the day it was suspended.

As Brexiters and Remainers protested outside Parliament, waiting for it to be prorogued, a group of MPs and their constituents were looking beyond Brexit to save the planet from extinction.

It was a simple idea. Extinction Rebellion (XR), the climate emergency movement which brought London to a standstill earlier this year, had asked their members to invite their MPs to attend a presentation and take part in a discussion about what they could do to save the planet.

Remarkably, on such a dramatic day, 44 MPs turned up with their constituents in tow. Admittedly, many were already converts and none came from the Prime Minister’s cabal, but all parties were represented. The room was decked in XR flags and there was a real buzz in the atmosphere.

The fact that they had been asked to attend by their constituents really seemed to galvanise the MPs and this was a great example of an initiative taken by a local XR group – XR Sutton. Although the group successfully managed to get Sutton Borough Council to declare a climate and ecological emergency, it claimed that there was little that could be done without national support. The room used for the event was sponsored by two local MPs – representing Sutton and Cheam, and Carshalton and Wallington – Paul Scully and Tom Brake.

“I paid the extortionate £2,500 fee for the room on my credit card and we crowd-funded the money,” Sue Riddlestone, from Sutton XR, explained.

All thoughts of proroguing Parliament and the speaker’s resignation seemed far away. The room was busy as XR constituents and their MPs, listened to a talk by Dr Joeri Rogelj about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 report Global Warming of 1.5%C, for which he was the lead author and which, in many ways, set the scene for XR. This was followed by a presentation by XR rebel and neuroscientist, Professor Kate Jeffery, who informed the room that nearly one million species were heading for extinction and that, this year, 46 billion tons of carbon were released into the atmosphere.

But this was more than just a presentation. An XR spokesman said that MPs needed to help the group meet its three demands: to tell the truth; to act now by reducing emissions to net zero by 2025 – not the 2050 which is currently Government policy and the date it signed up to at the Paris Climate Summit; and decision-making by a citizens’ assembly. There was an interesting moment when the benefits of a citizens’ assembly were espoused, with MPs looking quite envious when it was explained that members would not need to worry about re-election or lobbying.

Sue Riddlestone told MPs that XR needs them to make change happen. Indeed, many of the MPs signed pledges and some of these were very impressive. For example, Labour MP Anne McMorrin is organising a citizens’ assembly in her Cardiff constituency and sponsoring a bill to enshrine the three XR demands into law.

Sue is determined to make sure that all pledges are followed up: “Each of our XR constituents will make sure their MPs follow up on their pledges and we will make sure they do too.”

Perhaps this meeting will lead to the birth of a new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Emergency instead of the staid one around Climate Change. If nothing else, this event proved that some MPs can see past Brexit and want to pursue the bigger issue of saving the planet from extinction.

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