A rump of Remainers in Parliament spearheaded by Simon Hoare has proposed a host of wrecking amendments to the Agriculture Bill, which would serve to scupper new trade deals around the world that have been enabled by the UK’s exit from the EU. Many of the MPs involved are, unlike Hoare, not from rural constituencies and instead have a history of Brexit obstructionism. Hoare has been on his feet in the chamber this afternoon promoting the wrecking attempt…
These wrecking attempts have been bolstered by a proxy campaign from Friends of The Earth, who have instructed their obsessive troops to bombard MPs with a stock letter about the launch of trade talks with the US. As is to be expected, it contains misunderstanding, slight of hand, hyperbole, and outright falsehoods. Guido has helpfully trawled through and picked apart the points the letter makes…
1. Friends of The Earth (FoE) claim: “A US trade deal entails serious risks to our health and NHS, to our food and farming standards, to our digital privacy and more.”
Truth: The Tories know they would never be elected again if the NHS was on the table. The US has said it is not interested in the NHS and even Corbyn’s leaked trade papers made no mention of the NHS. The UK’s top negotiating objectives already include commitments to protect the NHS, and not lower food, animal welfare and environmental standards. Liz Truss has continually said she’ll walk away from the deal if UK objectives aren’t met.
2. FoE claim: “This deal would undermine the possibility of taking a fair share of responsibility for the climate emergency.”
Truth: The letter doesn’t provide any context for this bizarre claim. UK climate policy is at the discretion of the UK government, just as Canada (which has a deep trade agreement with the US) has control of its own environmental policy.
3. “A US trade deal must not undermine the UK’s international commitments, including to sustainable development, as set out in the sustainable development goals, or obligations under the human rights framework.”
Truth: Again no context here, just a string of bad things that “must not” happen, and actually won’t. The UK led the effort of negotiating the Sustainable Development Goals in the first place. The uncomfortable truth for FoE is that it is increasing trade that has lifted, is lifting and will lift developing counties out of poverty.
If stringent new production standards are placed on imports into the UK, goods from much of Africa, for example, would be effectively locked-out, leading to jobs being lost in developing countries and reversing their progress. Well done FoE.
4. FoE claim: “I am also worried that the deals may include some version of corporate courts. Formally known as ISDS…these mechanisms allow transnational corporations to sue governments for millions in secretive legal systems outside of national courts”
Truth: The UK has said it will ensure investors are protected while always making sure the UK has the right to regulate and US businesses abide by UK laws.
5. FoE claim: “Given the threat that this deal poses, and especially in the light of the uncertainty and chaos created by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is deeply Inappropriate for negotiations on this trade deal to continue. The government’s attention at this time should be focussed on addressing the health and economic crisis.”
Truth: A trade deal with the US is clearly a part of the solution to the economic upheaval of the pandemic. It will deliver £1.8bn in workers’ pockets, £3.2bn on to GDP, £15bn increase in overall trade. The truth is that it would be not only ‘deeply inappropriate’ but actually negligent to ignore these benefits just when many people in this country will need them the most.
6. FoE claim: “I am concerned that the Trade Bill as it stands does not currently include anything to ensure democratic standards of accountability and transparency. A set of standard democratic procedures for these negotiations needs to be put in place now.”
Truth: FoE is showing itself up here. UK law already has in place the CRAG procedures that deal with international treaties. Parliament has 21 days to fully consider a deal and should it wish, debate it and move against ratification. Oops.
7. FoE claim: “Trade must not jeopardise our ability to craft strong social, health and environmental protection rules. It must protect our ability to provide public services…”
Truth: The country has just come out of one of the most unaccountable regulatory systems in the world in the EU. The government that took such great pains to take back control is not about to give it all up again.
Friends of The Earth pitch this as a “now’s not the right time” appeal, you don’t need to look too deeply between the lines to see that they are just dead set against any trade deal at all with the US. In fact they say as much on their own website…
What they do stand for is limiting international trade. The kind of protectionism that risks making the economic hardship ahead so much more acute for people both in this country, in developing countries and everywhere else in the world. MPs receiving this letter this week, especially ones that have any kind of belief in open markets, should drop it straight in the recycling bin…