Why I’m backing the march for a People’s Vote

Why I’m backing the march for a People’s Vote

On Saturday I will go to London with MEP colleagues of all parties and people of all walks of life to join the March for a People’s Vote on the terms reached for the UK’s intended exit for the European Union. 

I’m not a great fan of demonstrations and it takes a lot to drag me to one but this time I’m making an exception.

First and foremost it is increasingly clear that leaving the European Union is a leap into the dark where the damage is clear but the gains can’t be quantified, and mostly can’t even be named - not even by those who favour leaving. I don’t believe it is my role, as someone who’s politics have been informed by socialism, to back an outcome that will make the people I was elected to represent poorer.

But while the increasingly apparent economic reality that the poorest will be the hardest hit is certainly enough, it’s not the only reason for being in London. Everything that has happened since the referendum two years ago has shown the process to be fundamentally flawed and the Brexit that was promised undeliverable.

Promises made by the leave campaigners have been repeatedly exposed as untrue, impossible or simply at odds with how the world works in the 21st century.

The Conservative Government has made a complete mess of the negotiation process, starting from the insult to our collective intelligence of “having our cake and eating it” and culminating on their surrenders on point after point which will mean Britain having sovereignty in name only while our European neighbours make the rules in which we will have no say - whatever our future relationship with the EU that will now be the reality of even the hardest of Brexits.

However my reasons for supporting the People’s Vote extend to the fundamentals of our democratic process. The referendum of 2016 was fundamentally flawed:

We should probably set aside the fact that the Leave campaigns blatantly broke both the rules and the law; flouting the spending limits, abusing personal data, peddling false claims and seemingly colluding with a hostile power. What I can never, however, ignore is the exclusion of three million taxpaying citizens and a million British-born people living and working elsewhere in the EU. Britain has a bad history where taxation without representation is concerned - it lost George III his American colonies.  

Neither can I accept the removal from all of our people many of their legal rights we now have as citizens. It is and always was too big a step to take by a single vote and a narrow margin and to remove the dreams of young and old alike to seek a different life is a step to far in constraining individual liberty. 

I’m tired of hearing this narrow decision described as, for all time, the ‘will of the people’ - it was an expression of view and, rightly, the Government has had the opportunity to deliver what was promised. Now they have failed it is time for Parliament to do its job and act in the national interest. 

By the time this is being read Parliament will have decided whether it shall exercise its right to hold the Government to account, to act as the representatives of the country through its meaningful vote, or perhaps the narrow interests of the Conservative Party will prevail over those of the future of the country. But whatever decision Parliament takes it is my view that what was done by direct democracy can only be undone by direct democracy. 

For my part I was elected on a proportional mandate - six of the ten MEPs elected for South East England one way or another support Brexit at any cost, four of us favour remaining in the EU - the result in the region was the same as in the country as a whole. Those who believe the UK should at least think again deserve representation. When my Party lost elections my job was to hold those who won to account and to battle for those who elected me to minimise the damage to people and communities. It was not to give up and say ‘it’s OK, because people voted for it’. In democracies we get to speak truth to power and hold those who make promises to account, otherwise democracy withers. Those who voted in good faith and have been let down and betrayed by the Brexiteers and Theresa May’s inept and duplicitous Government deserve the chance to hold them to account. 

For all those reasons I’m going to walk around London on Saturday. 

Posted by John Howarth
Biomedical Sciences Day 2018

Biomedical Sciences Day 2018

I thought it would be good to mark Biomedical Sciences Day 2018, as I know that Biomedical Sciences contributes a huge amount to our lives.

Biomedical Science investigates how cells, organs and systems work in the body, which then allows scientists to understand and treat human diseases. Most of the tests and treatments you now get via the NHS come from developments in Biomedical Science. These include the heel prick test routinely given to babies and tests for blood, genetics and immunology.

Like other areas of science I have been working to ensure that the possible impact of Brexit doesn’t damage the UK’s Biomedical Sciences community beyond repair. The hard Brexit argued for by the Daily Express and the likes of Farage would certainly do that.  

Research in this area, like many others, depends on cooperation and shared funding that have been working across borders for many years. EU funding and freedom of movement have supported the breakthrough developments. Indeed, a report out last year found that one in five European Research Council funded projects led to a scientific breakthrough, and 6 in 10 led to ‘major scientific breakthrough’. And while it is always the case that some scientific projects don’t work out as hoped, just 1% of EU funded projects made no ‘appreciable’ contribution at all.

Stepping back from participating in cutting-edge research and development would be a massive backwards step for the UK, and could easily lead to a brain-drain of our most talented scientists. 

I’ve been meeting with a range of businesses, research bodies and Universities looking at these issues and giving the uncompromising message to the Government that nobody voted in the referendum to give up on scientific breakthroughs and to go backwards on the developments we have been making in medicine and treatments. It is now widely accepted that Britain needs to participate in the EU’s science programmes and the work that has been done by British diplomats and MEPs has helped keep the door open but we still need a firm commitment from the UK Government before the Good Ship Research sails. 

The theme of this year’s Biomedical Science Day is “At the heart of healthcare”. I know the value of the great education, research and collaboration as well as the EU investment that has been at the heart of our healthcare for decades, let’s hope that the Prime Minister can see that too. 

You can read more about the impact of Brexit on higher education here – Link to report on HE.

Posted by John Howarth
National Beer Day 2018

National Beer Day 2018

A good, sadly long passed, friend once said to me while buying me a pint, “beer - it’s an acquired taste - but I spent so much time acquiring it that it seems a shame to stop”.

What strikes me looking back is how much beer has improved since the big brewers lost their iron grip on their pub chains and smaller brewers got us away from chemical vats of mass produced beer, much of which had little taste to acquire. Now you can’t move for ‘craft beers’ of one sort or another and, just in case there weren’t enough of these things around, today it is National Beer Day.

South East England has a long tradition of brewing beer. The region can boast of 192 breweries and contributes towards 140,033 jobs within the beer and pub sector. Micro breweries have become a means of giving a pub a way of competing in harder times. For example, The Flower Pots Inn at Cheriton in Hampshire brews its beer onsite – a 10 brewer’s barrel plant and has been extended recently to allow for increased capacity. 

One brewery that never lost the plot is Shepherd Neame brewery - Britain’s oldest brewer based in Faversham, Kent. Shepherd Neame produces over 60 million pints annually and exports to 35 countries and enjoy Protected Geographical Indicator (PGI) status afforded by the European Union to Kentish Ales - meaning that they must be produced in Kent. Hops, East Kent Goldings, used in the brewing process, also have Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).

Does it help? It protects from fake products, it tells the consumer that their beer really is beer brewed by a traditional method and it is a quality mark that assists with export. In the UK we’ve been really slow to make the most of these protections and, while German beer had its Reinheitsgebot purity law, French Wine had its AOC designation and so on, in the UK Government’s of all stripes simply let big commercial interests serve anything they could get away with. 

What happens if and when the UK leaves the EU? Who knows? It’s just something else nobody seems to have thought through. 63% of the UK’s total beer exports go to the EU, but withdrawing from the Single Market and Customs Union will make serving that market harder and, despite all the waffle about ‘global Britain’ it won’t make it any easier to sell anything anywhere else either. So until someone comes up with some bright ideas it will remain tough for UK producers. 

People in business have a way of shrugging and ‘just getting on with it’ but the UK could do a great deal better to support its food and drink economy. Just think about this - the UK has zero VAT on takeaway food but has the highest rate of VAT in Europe on restaurant and pub meals - nothing to do with the EU, everything to do with a hangover from the days when eating out in the UK was taxed as a ‘luxury’.

Anyway, today is a good excuse to support your local brewery and have a pint in your local. 

In the photo with John (and now in the empties) are Shepherd Neame’s Spitfire (Kent), The Hog’s Back Brewery’s Farnham White (Surrey) and Good Old Boy from the Yattendon-based West Berkshire Brewery.

Posted by John Howarth
Football and Brexit – never mind the World Cup

Football and Brexit – never mind the World Cup

Never mind the World Cup. Like a lot, my guess is actually most of the people who follow football, my first loyalty is to club rather than country. What happens to Newcastle United matters to me - rather too much. What happens to Reading FC matters to me a fair bit. What happens to England or Scotland - rather less so, I’m afraid. The national team is something football supporters care about for a month every couple of years, they care about their club the other 23 months.

So the big event this week is the publication of the fixtures for next season. I should confess at this point that I’m really hoping that my Son’s wedding doesn’t clash with a home game! 

For some people the fixtures drive their lives but for Premier League supporters it is now just an outline. The TV schedules mean games are changed and travel planning becomes more difficult. For the teams at the top the European schedules mean that games are switched even more regularly. Saturday at 3pm is a routine reserved for the lower leagues - mostly.

I’m asked sometimes how I think Brexit would affect football. To be honest, I’m not sure, but there are several possibilities that could go either way. These are some of the issues affecting football in the near and not so near future:

For as long as I can remember somebody or other has been predicting some kind of apocalyptic event likely to hit the game but history should teach us that very little happens overnight. The Bosman ruling was a decision of the European Court of Justice in 1995. It essentially just confirmed that slavery really had been abolished and so once a player had reached the end of their contract they had the right to move without a fee being played to their former club. At the time it was the end of the world - except it wasn’t. 

Under the Withdrawal Bill the Bosman ruling will still apply to UK clubs - and, given that there have been advantages and disadvantages but that wages have generally risen, it’s hard to see the PFA agreeing to any change. 

TV rights, the biggest single source of income at the top level, are awarded on the basis of national territories. This might change at some stage depending on what happen to EU law in the media sector and the digital single market. With the UK outside the EU territorial rights will still apply to the UK, however if EU law changes then the Premier League it may change the way rights can be sold in the EU which may affect the price.

What will certainly affect TV income, however is whether or not the Premier League can position itself as the ‘best league in the world’. That was always debatable - but the fact is it is the most competitive top league and worldwide audiences seem to like the product, which is faster and in many ways more interesting than more aesthetically skilful leagues. The quality of the product depends on the quality of the players.

The essence of Bosman was that professional footballers are just people at work. So they have rights, including freedom of movement. If freedom of movement is ended EU players will require work permits. This has enabled the Premier League to become ‘the best league’ by hiring overseas, which has often meant less expensive players. It also meant that the football authorities could not enforce requirements for a minimum number of ‘home’ players to be fielded and this especially affected the Premier League as all EU players are ‘home’ players. Players from outside the EU need to meet competitive standards to qualify for competition. Analysis of squads, conducted by BBC Sport, have found that in the first two tiers in England and the Scottish Premiership, a total of 332 players would fail to meet current standards, more than 100 Premier League players would be affected.

With the UK outside the EU players from the EU27 would have to abide by current FA international player rules. The current rules, on international players from outside the EU state that a player from a top 10 ranked FIFA country, has had to have played in 30% of their games in the two years prior to the date of application to be granted a work permit. A player from a nation ranked 11-20 must have played in 45% of international games and this percentage rises to 60% for the next 10 countries, then 75% for nations ranked 31-50. If these current rules are applied to the EU-27, then we are looking at a considerable drain of talent and loss of competitiveness to the Premier League. There has been substantial pressure from UK clubs on the Home Office and FA to make the necessary concessions to allow future recruitment and the retention of current players as simple as possible.

While the Premier League frets about its future revenues others, notably the FA, see the potential opportunity of bringing more UK-born players into top flight football thus potentially improving the chances of the England international team. A cynic like myself however, would point out that pre-Bosman the England team did not set the world alight. More significant for football in the UK may be the consequences for teams further down the leagues. There is little doubt that the product at every level of the game is at a higher standard than in the past. Bosman brought a new variety and new ideas into all the leagues. Attendances remain, despite everything, at historic highs and the Championship is a highly competitive league, in many ways more entertaining than the top division.

Another issue relates to FIFA’s Article 19 on the Status and Transfer of Players. Under this Article, international transfers are only permitted for players over the age of 18. However, one of these exceptions is that if the transfer takes place within the EU or EEA, then the age criteria is reduced to 16. This may not appear a big problem, but it means that when the UK leaves the EU, we will lose the ability to utilise the exception in Article 19, and therefore be prevented from signing players at other EU Clubs between the ages of 16-18. In recent years, hundreds of players under the age of 18 have been transferred to UK clubs under the EU/EEA exemption to Article 19 such as Hector Bellerin, Nathan Ake and Andreas Christensen to name but a few.

What will happen? Nobody knows for sure, but the US experience tell us that elite sport usually wins. The biggest clubs are now international brands and TV franchises. The issues are all going to rumble along and will, like so much else, remain unresolved for a while yet, money will talk. The Premier League will get its way, or find a limited compromise on EU-based players. However, the greater threat to the structures of English football as we know it will come from the changing shape of the European elite. A reformed Champions’ League or newly structured European club competition may effectively remove half a dozen teams from the domestic league altogether and they will simply no longer be governed by the jurisdiction of the FA. The main threat to the integrity of the sport will come from the preponderance of gambling interests surrounding the world game. It has always been true that where gambling leads corruption follows.

Meanwhile the game will in essence remain beautiful and the World Cup will remain a contest of two halves which Germany tends to win.

Posted by John Howarth
The Fat Man of Europe

The Fat Man of Europe

This week (11-18 June) is Diabetes Awareness Week, a health issue that is an increasing problem. The number of people diagnosed with diabetes in Britain has more than doubled in the last twenty years. 

According to Diabetes UK, approximately 4.6 million people are living with diabetes in the UK. The NHS currently spends 10% of its £100 billion budget on diabetes care. Type II diabetes, as many people know, is linked directly to obesity and in this field the UK leads – not so much the sick man of Europe as the fat man of Europe. In many cases diabetes is a preventable condition. All the while UK politicians have made excuses for a food taxation regime that leaves takeaway food untaxed obesity and diabetes and the care bill have been increasing. However diabetes care depends on the NHS and so Brexit will do further harm to an already strained system. 

European funded research projects remain at risk and membership of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), though the UK has signalled a desire to participate, remains under a large question mark.

The continuing REDDSTAR project involves scientists from the UK, Portugal, Germany, the USA, Denmark and the Netherlands. REDDSTAR, or the Repair of Diabetic Damage by Stromal Cell Administration, is a project spread over the course of three years and if successful, would provide therapeutic options to control the complications of diabetes. Ideally, nothing should imperil this project. And on Planet Sensible, nothing would.  However, we’re not on Planet Sensible, we’re on Planet Brexit. 

The EMA will relocate from London to Amsterdam. If and when the UK leaves the EU, our membership of the EMA will in any case diminish. Unless we can successfully persuade the EU27 otherwise the UK will be relegated to a country with tier 2 market status. The most probable outcome are delays for NHS patients to receive new drugs. Switzerland, a country outside the EU, takes on average 157 days longer for access to EMA medicines. Indeed, over 45% of applications for medicines submitted by pharmaceutical companies are not submitted to Switzerland, with patients missing out on often vital drugs. 

And I haven’t even got onto the dwindling numbers of health care professionals in the NHS, the NHS’ reliance on EU national staff – 11% of the NHS’s staff were born outside the UK –  immigration restrictions on tier 2 visas, the healthcare gap left by removing the EHIC agreement, and likely increases in food prices affecting diets. 

It’s hard to blame the EU for the state in which the UK finds itself. The modern history of the rise of Diabetes is a truly depressing tale and one with consequences that are consistently forcing the costs of the NHS higher. 

If you would like more information on Diabetes Week 2018, and diabetes in general, visit: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/get_involved/diabetes-week  

Posted by John Howarth
Doctor Finds Backbone Shock

Doctor Finds Backbone Shock

The question is will he now be able to help others find theirs. Dr Phillip Lee, Tory MP for Bracknell, resigned his ministerial position earlier today (12th June). Like many other Members of the Westminster Parliament - easily a voting majority - he regards the Government’s approach to Brexit as being badly managed and bad for the country.

But there are lots of pressures on MPs to vote with their party rather than what they believe to be right or to be best for the country and if Government Ministers - even the most junior - want to keep their jobs they have to vote with the Government. 

In his resignation statement he says: , which has rather a Burkian air about it, highlights the concerns many people, including some of the Tory Party, have about Brexit. 

In his resignation statement, Dr Phil also makes plain that: 

“ ... the practicalities, logistics and implications of leaving the EU are far more complex than was ever envisaged and certainly more complex than the people were told in 2016. The UK is not going to be ready in time, neither is the EU, and both would suffer from a rushed or fudged agreement.

“The outcome that is emerging will be neither fully to leave the EU, nor fully to stay. This is not an outcome for which anyone knowingly voted. In my view, this raises the important principle of legitimacy: I do not believe it would be right for the Government to pursue such a course without a plan to seek a confirmatory mandate for the outcome. And I believe that Parliament should have the power to ask the Government to adjust its course in the best interests of the people whom its Members represent.”

And I agree with him. 

No news there. You only have to look at previous articles I have penned on my blog for evidence of what I have long claimed Brexit is a complete Tory fudge-up. The thing is there are a whole lot of Brexiteers who share that view from the other end of the telescope. 

The public seem to agree. The latest Opinium poll for the Observer, released three days ago, shows that only 41% of leave voters trust the Tories to lead the Brexit negotiations. These are the lowest levels of trust in a Tory Brexit since January 2017. 

The referendum was called to fix the ‘Europe’ problem in the Tory party. Instead of facing down those in her party who would take the UK over the cliff edge, Theresa May is taking the country onto a plank over the cliff-edge. After the planned exit date, having given up the UK’s seat at every table, Mrs May then proposes to negotiate the detail.  

The Prime Minister’s warning that any defeat in the Commons, “would send the wrong message to Brussels” has to been seen in this context. All the EU27 have to do is sit tight and by walking away without a full agreement the UK will have played its hand for no gain.   

Many of those who voted to leave wanted Parliament to be ‘sovereign’ (which it always was, by the way). But now, Tory MPs are being asked by the Government to reject the notion of Parliament having a ‘meaningful vote’ over whether or not the Government has got an acceptable deal; to reject being given the power to force Theresa and co to go back to the negotiating table if Parliament votes to reject a Brexit deal. 

It is plain mad for Parliament to abrogate this role to a rudderless executive headed by an astonishingly weak PM with the propensity to fudge this up. 

The only way this madness can be undone is by direct democracy. And whilst there isn’t much of an appetite to go back to the polls, with our current Tory government, it is the only way out of this Brexit shambles. 

As to Dr Phillip Lee MP, he has voted with his conscience, and put his country before his career. Whilst we are of different political bents, this is something to be saluted. 

Hopefully, his next step will be using his medical background to help some of his colleagues locate their backbones.

Posted by John Howarth
Volunteers Week 2018

Volunteers Week 2018

Today (2 June) marks the start of Volunteers Week 2018.

Increasingly, volunteers are helping to fill the gaps in vital local services that have been hammered by Tory cuts to services such are libraries. Replacing paid jobs with voluntary staff is not my idea of how public services should be run but, perhaps, is better than losing the service altogether. Perhaps.

However one vital service in the UK has been provided on a voluntary basis since its founding almost 200 years ago and it is genuinely lifesaving. The Royal National Lifeboat Institute, or to give it its commonly known acronym, the RNLI. The RNLI provides a 24-hour search and rescue service in the UK and Ireland from 238 lifeboat stations. Since their foundation in 1824, their lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 140,000 lives. And crucially, 95% of the charity is staffed by volunteers, including the Hastings lifeboat pictured above.

You only have to look at the RNLI’s website to see evidence of the importance of volunteers. On their vacancy pages, their voluntary vacancies outnumber their paid vacancies by a ratio of 2:1. These vacancies are for a range of jobs, advertising for fundraisers; volunteers to give safety advice; to give help in lifeboat museums; to staff the RNLI charity shops; and to work in the RNLI offices.

However, some of these advertisements are for volunteer lifeboat crew members. 

The RNLI has 4,600 volunteer lifeboat crew members, who can be called without a moment’s notice in the middle of the night to rescue people stranded at sea. 

Often, members of these crews are not from a previous professional maritime background- only 1/10 volunteers who join the RNLI lifeboat crews have a maritime background- and they have to undergo rigorous training in order to help save lives. 

But their impact is huge. In a single week (last week), upwards of 10 people were helped by the RNLI crews around the South East, often at very unsociable hours.  With the summer months around the corner, those lifeboat crews will only get busier.

The RNLI pitch this lifesaving work as ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things.’ And I think that’s a pretty good summary. Nothing much is certain in this world - except that the RNLI WILL save lives along the south coast this summer.

N.B- If you wish to volunteer with the RNLI, take a look at their website-https://jobs.rnli.org/home.html

Posted by John Howarth
Football Unites, Racism Divides #notinmygame

Football Unites, Racism Divides #notinmygame

The love of the game is a passion I share, not just at St James’ Park with my fellow Newcastle United supporters, but with my ‘second team’ at Reading FC, watching my son on a local park, in a bar in Brussels with supporters from Congo or with supporters all over the the world. 

In the week of the UEFA finals and ahead of next month’s World Cup, the European Parliament came together on Wednesday to stand united against racism in football.

Three key issues were discussed at the event; stamping out racism, challenging discrimination, and preventing anti-Semitism. The diversity within football is something we should be proud of and celebrate. No matter whether you are a player, fan, referee or manager, everyone is entitled to play, watch, and enjoy the game without the fear of prejudice or ignorance. 

The event brought together UEFA, football clubs, politicians, charities, and stakeholders to commit ourselves to the guarantee that everyone who plays, or watches football can do so in a safe environment, without the fear of racial abuse or harassment. Football must do more to encourage the participation of people from all ethnic minorities, as either players, spectators, or employees.

There are many ways we can combat this problem on every level. A lot has been done and achieved already but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about politics and community campaigning is as soon as you think the war is won the next battle starts. Clubs need to further develop their understanding of racism and work in partnership with their football associations, so they are better equipped to take positive action and send a clear message that racism is never welcome, certainly #notinmygame.

Players and coaches too have an important role to play, within understanding their role and responsibilities both on and off the pitch. Reaching out to local communities, forging strong partnerships with cross-sections of the community is an essential step in bringing people together to stand against racism. 

Everyone involved within the world of football has a responsibility of staying no to racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism. We must use football as a platform to build acceptance and embrace diversity; the love of the game should be a unifying factor in standing against racism. 

Posted by John Howarth
I Like Tomatoes –  and its British Tomato Week

I Like Tomatoes – and its British Tomato Week

This week is British Tomato Week, so I thought that I would draw your attention to the excellent fruits grown on the Isle of Wight.

Although the title is hotly disputed and depends on how you measure it, the Isle of Wight is certainly among the sunniest places in the UK. More importantly (as direct sunlight can be a mixed blessing - see below) the Isle experiences very few frosts - being surrounded by sea and all that (the clue’s in the name). All in all the climate is ideal for growing tomatoes. 

#BritishTomatoWeek is right at the heart of the tomato growing season, and now is a great time to be enjoying Isle of Wight tomatoes, which are famed for their flavour. Apparently, the big advice for this British Tomato Week is to not keep your tomatoes in the fridge, as it impairs the flavour… I know this to be true, though like a lot of foodie advice not always easy as part of a modern lifestyle - so at least bring them out for an hour or so before you eat them. This is one reason British (or local) tomatoes taste good - because they don’t need to be refrigerated for a long trip. My own advice is buy them on the vine (or truss as tomato folk say).

As an MEP, I’ve been listening to the concerns of the agriculture sector. Access to seasonal workers and the ability to sell their produce quickly and efficiently is key to the famers and food producers I have been meeting. While it would be better to stop Brexit altogether, I’ll also work for an outcome that avoids the huge queues at ports and airports and allows farmers to find the key staff needed to help them harvest their crops at the key times that they need to. I was brought up to hate the notion of food going to waste - and tales of fruit rotting on the vine for want of pickers makes me genuinely angry.

Isle of Wight farmers already time their harvesting to allow easy access to the Ferry to get their crops to the UK mainland and moving the produce to the EU adds more uncertainty and time to a process where ensuring that the tomatoes are at their peak is essential.

As a footnote I would add that I very much like tomatoes. In fact I eat tomatoes most days. My Dad grew them in the greenhouse - he saved up for it for ages got it to pursue his favourite hobby. He grew his tomatoes through ring culture on boiler ash I enjoyed helping water them (One full watering can every night for each ring and potash based feed once a week - one pint directly into each ring) - we had to make our own entertainment in those days. We would then be able to eat the smaller ones straight off the vine - absolutely at their best. Too much direct sunlight/heat at the wrong time can be a problem as it can cause ‘white wall or greenback’ - where the tomato fails to ripen through - this is why you can often see the top of tomato glass houses whitewashed or with shades fitted. 

Tomatoes are also meant to be very good for you - especially for men, where they are linked to nutrients that are thought to help inhibit prostate cancer. You can read more about the health benefits here if you like. 

In the meantime that’s quite enough about tomatoes. Have a good weekend.

Posted by John Howarth
The next MFF will matter to Britain – when the Commission gets its numbers straight

The next MFF will matter to Britain – when the Commission gets its numbers straight

On 2 May the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Junker, and his sidekick, Gunther Oettinger (lets call them Junkinger), announced the European Commission’s draft of the European Union Multi-annual Financial Framework for 2021-27. In English that’s the EU’s next seven year budget.

Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed that this MFF commences the day after the UK shuffles off from its intended ‘transition’ period into the wilderness of ‘third country’ status. So why should we care about what’s in the next EU budget, after all, the UK will by then not be paying into the budget? 

That depends, to some extent, on the approach that the UK takes to its relationship with the European Union in the future. If, as seems probable, there is to be some kind of relationship with the EU Customs Union and the Single Market, then the UK will also end up with some kind of contribution to the European Union. If the UK also wants to sign up to various EU programmes - such as the Erasmus+ student mobility scheme, the Horizon Europe (Framework 9) research programme, ITER/fusion research and the various space ventures for example then it will bear expected to contribute on a ‘pay and play’ basis. The bigger the programmes, the more important membership to UK institutions. Contributions from the UK are likely, whatever combination of the above come about, to be larger than those made by other third countries like Norway and should probably be made direct to the budget for the sake of transparency. 

As I explained it a previous article the level of funding for the next MFF is a political choice for the EU27. Although Britain leaving the EU budget leaves a theoretical ‘gap’ of about €12bn annually, the real level is both debatable and difficult to measure. €12bn is also not actually such a massive gap in practice - sure it’s a lot of money, but over 27 member states, not so much. How the EU27 decides to approach the next MFF will also define all sorts of things that will affect the UK free of any influence the UK might otherwise have brought to bear. For example, if the UK is to participate without a vote in EU security structures and, for example, the medicines agency and legislative framework then it can expect to pay its share. Less simply, if agricultural funding is reduced and EU27 farmers receive less support this will define the acceptable level of subsidy that the UK Government may provide to UK farmers so that their products would be regarded as in ‘fair competition’ within EU markets (by far the UK’s biggest agricultural export market). So if support to farmers is cut in the next MFF the UK Government is probably helpless not to follow suit. So much for sovereignty. 

However, nearly three weeks after Junkinger presented their proposals a series of questions arose on exactly what the figures that were much trumpeted to European media and given with bold headline figures to Parliament actually mean.

An analysis by the Parliament’s Budget Secretariat, the politically neutral EU Civil Servants who service the Parliament committee system, threw up a series of questions over the price base used for the Junkinger claims. In a seven year budget this matters rather a lot. It is the difference between the Junkinger boasts to have “doubled” Erasmus+ and an increase of 70+% - still a lot, but also a lot less, or between a significant 50% increase in Framework programmes and a not so special 27% rise. Now even though being the Prime Minister of Luxembourg is only marginally more significant than leading Hampshire County Council, Mr Junker is an experienced and clever man, as is Herr Oettinger, who was the Premier of Baden-Wurttemburg, in South West Germany. Both would have gained a grasp of PR and expectation management, but if they did, then why was Junker running Brussels around talking about “trebling” Framework 9, while Oettinger told the Budget Committee of his intention to “double” the programme and “treble” Erasmus? Disappointment follows as night follows day and is compounded by the failure to respond to Parliament initiatives such a the Child Guarantee, wider youth policies and the shuffling of the EPPs ill founded, untested and poorly costed plan to give Interail passes to 18 year-olds into the Erasmus budget line. Then why was Junker on more than one occasion talking about “no cuts” to Parliament while his colleague was peddling the notion of 50:50 cuts to new funding? Even if we ignore those claims as ‘just talk’ then we still end up wondering what on earth the Commission thought would happen when they failed to make clear the basis of their calculations? Could they not have anticipated the reaction from politicians of being taken for fools? It’s all a very odd way to communicate a key set of decisions and can really only be either incompetent or mendacious. 

Then there is the rationale over some of the decisions, like the requirement to mainstream climate funding to 30% of the budget - reduced to 25% for no apparent reason or the declaration that the external border agency Frontex will be recruiting 10,000 border police to assist with the protection of frontiers - something for which it becomes apparent after my questioning of the boss of Frontex there is neither a request, a rationale nor a plan. 10,000 border guards the right solution - who knows, but it sounds good on a press release. 

The doubt over exactly what the figures might mean in ‘real terms’ makes the assessment of the Junkinger proposals even more complex than was already the case. The absence of an in-depth analysis of the detailed implications of Brexit for the future EU budget makes it even more difficult to reach sensible conclusions. The avoidance of the latter issue among the Commission’s Budgeteers has been in stark contrast to the rigour with which Mr Barnier’s Task Force 50 has taken on the wider legislative implications of Brexit. 

My take is, though the justification of the figures may be some way off and may yet generate more heat than light, the MFF proposals represent a growth budget of sorts. More worrying is that it seems to be a plan where the requirement for positive headlines matters more than the need to flesh out detailed and real solutions to key challenges for Europe and its peoples.

Posted by John Howarth