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Gove mocked by EU after claiming Brexit makes it easier to ban plastic straws

European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans revealed the EU plans to bring forward laws on single-use plastics before summer.

Michael Gove has been mocked by a European commissioner for suggesting Brexit would make it easier to ban plastic straws.

The Environment Secretary said leaving the European Union “actually makes it easier” to ban plastic straws and the live export of animals for slaughter as he outlined his plans for a “green Brexit”.

But European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans hit back, stressing the EU was “one step ahead of you” and was set to bring forward legislation on single use plastics before the summer.

Mr Timmermans tweeted: “.@michaelgove One step ahead of you. EU legislation on single-use plastics coming before the summer. Maybe you can align with us? #EUDoesntSuck #StrongerTogether #PlasticsStrategy”.

It is estimated the UK uses 8.5 billion straws a year, according to the Marine Conservation Society, and plastic straws are one of the top 10 items found in beach clean-ups.

Mr Gove told Sky News: “Since I became Environment Secretary nine months ago, there have been a number of things, from banning plastic straws to ending the live export of animals for slaughter, where being outside the EU actually makes it easier for us to do the right thing.

“So, I don’t think there’s any tension. In fact, I think Britain leaving the EU can help us make a contribution to a better planet. That’s why I believe that we are pursuing a green Brexit.”

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Cabinet meeting

Mr Gove is among dozens of senior Tories trying to cut down on their plastic use for Lent, with the Environment Secretary recently photographed clutching a disposable coffee cup.

Last month in the London Evening Standard, he highlighted how an “overwhelming majority” of plastic straws “end up in landfill or clogging up our rivers and oceans.”

He wrote: “As a symbol of society’s damaging addiction to single-use plastics and our throwaway culture, straws are hard to beat. If they did not exist, there would be scant reason to invent them.”

It comes as figures from the House of Commons Commission showed the number of straws purchased by Parliament has doubled in the last three years, from 6,000 in 2014/15 to 12,250 in 2016/17, with SNP MP David Linden describing the increase as “pretty alarming”.

Recently, high-profile nature documentary Blue Planet II has highlighted the damage plastic pollution is doing to the world’s oceans and their wildlife.

The BBC1 show helped drive awareness of the issue of marine plastic pollution, with companies, organisations and politicians increasingly taking action to tackle the problem.

Firms such as JD Wetherspoon, Wagamama, Costa Coffee, Pizza Express and Waitrose have all started phasing out plastic straws or offering them on request only.

MSP Kate Forbes has also recently urged public bodies and companies to crack down on plastic straws and other single-use plastics to save the environment.

The SNP member launched a “final straw” campaign, asking businesses and consumers to stop using disposable plastic straws and for governments to ban their use.

She said: “Most of us don’t need plastic straws in our drinks and yet in Scotland we throw away a staggering three billion each year. They’re choking our seas and damaging our environment.”

Campaigns on social media such as Refuse The Straw say single-use straws take more than 200 years to break down.

In January, Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste within 25 years, including by encouraging supermarkets to introduce “plastic-free” aisles.

The launch of the 25-year environment plan follows a ban on the use of plastic microbeads to reduce plastic pollution entering the world’s oceans.

A Defra spokesman said: “We are committed through our 25-year environment plan to eliminating avoidable plastic altogether by the end of 2042 so we leave our planet in a better state than we found it.

“We are exploring a range of options, and have already introduced a world-leading ban on microbeads, and set out plans to extend the 5p plastic bag charge, improve recycling rates and explore plastic-free aisles in supermarkets.”

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