Tuesday 7 October 2014

The biggest threat to UK sovereignty is the TTIP corporate power grab

UKIP have made a heck of a lot of political capital out of harping on about British sovereignty. So much so that they have the Tory party running scared, looking to ramp up their own anti-immigration anti-Europe rhetoric in order to stop the exodus of voters, political figures and major party donors from their party to UKIP.

Given their professed concerns about British sovereignty it's extremely strange that the UKIP leadership have remained almost completely silent about the secretive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations underway in the EU, which are designed to carve open European markets (including the UK) for the benefit of gigantic US conglomerates, to bypass the UK courts and to undermine British democracy.

Investor State Dispute Settlements

The most concerning aspect of this so called "trade deal" is the inclusion of Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS). These new rules would allow corporations to completely bypass the UK legal system and sue the UK government in secretive tribunals.

I don't think it's a radical view to say that if corporations want to do business in the UK, they should abide by the same legal system as the public. They shouldn't just be able to run off to a secretive transnational tribunal to sue our government every time the government does something that the corporations don't like.

Here are a few brief examples of how corporations could use ISDS proceedings to bypass the British legal system and undermine our democracy.

  • UK Standards: ISDS tribunals could be used to prevent the UK government from bringing in new standards. If the UK government introduced new safety standards on any kind of product, the product manufacturers could launch ISDS proceedings in order to sue the UK government for their lost profits.

  • Public health: The Tobacco company Philip Morris has already used ISDS regulations in other free-trade agreements to sue countries (including Uruguay and Australia) for attempting to introduce plain cigarette packaging. TTIP would allow multinational corporations to undermine all kinds of legislation designed to promote public health.

  • Environmental issues: Corporations have been using the ISDS components of existing free-trade agreements in order to sue governments and attempt to undermine environmental legislation all over the world (Canada, Peru, El SalvadorAustralia, Ecuador). If any future UK government were to introduce new environmental legislation to protect our natural environment, or reduce pollution in our cities, the ISDS components of TTIP could make them liable to pay compensation to the companies they prevent from damaging the environment.

  • Tax: Another important area in which ISDS proceedings could be used to undermine national sovereignty is the tax system. If any future UK government were to introduce new taxes (pollution tax, financial transaction taxes, Pigouvian taxes, wealth taxes) they would be opening themselves up to be sued by all manner of corporations.

Mode 4 cross-border trade (immigration)

The EU has a policy of including Mode 4 concessions in all of it's trade negotiations. This allows companies to transfer workers across borders. To simplify somewhat - Mode 4 cross-border trade is similar to outsourcing, but instead of moving the factory to a low-wage economy, workers are moved from the low-wage economy to the factory. Anyone with a job should be worried at the prospect of multinational companies driving down the aggregate value of labour in the UK by shipping in workers from low-wage economies.

This article gives a much more comprehensive description of what Mode 4 cross border trade is all about

One would have thought, given their near constant use of anti-immigration rhetoric, the proposal to allow businesses to import foreign labour into the UK would have UKIP up in arms. Given that they now have 24 MEPs in Europe, surely one of them must have realised by now that ratification of TTIP could remove their power to "close the borders" should they ever actually get into power?

The Opposition

The silence from the UKIP leadership on the subject of this undeniable attack on UK sovereignty is telling. If they're not prepared to speak out forcefully against TTIP (especially the inclusion of ISDS tribunals and mode 4 cross-border trade) suggests that they don't really care that much about our sovereignty at all. It suggests that they're so wedded to Thatcherite ideology that they can't even see the importance of maintaining the sovereignty of our legal system, and the decisions of our democratically elected governments. They don't seem to mind about attacks on our sovereignty, as long as the beneficiaries are corporations.

The void left by UKIP's hypocritical silence on the issue has been filled by two other players on the political scene.

The campaign group 38 Degrees has coordinated activists and organised public information campaigns to educate people about what the mainstream media seems so desperately reluctant to talk about in critical terms.

The largest political party to take a strong stance against TTIP is the Green Party, who recognise this "trade deal" for what it is: A massive corporate power grab, and a grave threat to our national sovereignty. The three Green MEPs are part of the Green-European Free Alliance, which is the largest EU parliamentary group to strongly oppose TTIP.

What can we do about it?

Take direct action: The campaign group 38 Degrees has been coordinating public protests against TTIP. If you feel strongly about protecting British sovereignty it is not difficult to sign up. You don't have to be any kind of "radical" or "leftie" to participate. I'm absolutely sure that if you've never really got into politics before, or if you're a right-wing libertarian (who should surely be appalled at this kind of crony capitalism) you'd be gladly welcomed into your local campaign against TTIP. The more people on the streets speaking out against it and providing public education, the better.

Write to your politicians: We live in a democracy where the politicians would prefer that we keep our noses out of it, and limit ourselves to drawing a cross on a piece of paper every few years. One of the only semblances of participatory democracy in UK politics is the fact that we can write to our political representatives and expect a reply from them. If you're not an experienced letter writer, feel free to copy and paste excerpts from my work (I don't care about copyright). Your local MP has a statutory obligation to reply to you if you include your full name and postal address in your letter. It is also worth contacting your local MEPs too, since TTIP is being negotiated within the European Union. Contact your local representatives here.

Sign the European petition: In September 2014 the European Union blocked the launch of a Citizens' Initiative against TTIP. Apparently they are extremely frightened that if they allow the people of Europe to have a say, they'll say something inconvenient like "we don't want TTIP". The organisers of the Citizens' Initiative decided to go ahead and self-organise the petition against TTIP anyway. The self-organised Citizens' Initiative against TTIP could be the most important petition you sign this year.

Spread awareness: You don't have to join 38 Degrees campaigners on the streets to spread awareness. Many elderly people, people with disabilities, people who work long hours and people with young children often find public protest difficult or intimidating. You can spread awareness by sharing this article or any of my other TTIP related articles and pictures. You can share this concise document from the Green - European Free Alliance, or if you suspect your friends or family might be hungry for more detail, you could share this booklet. If people don't know about TTIP, they can't oppose it.

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Why don't UKIP oppose TTIP?
The incredible rise of Podemos in Spain
Reasons to vote alternative
Why 73% of UKIP voters should actually vote Green
TTIP and the EU's contempt for democracy
12 things you should know about the 2014 European elections
The decline in political participation and the rise of the non-traditional parties

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