The Importance of Protecting the Good Friday Agreement Cannot Be Exaggerated

The Importance of Protecting the Good Friday Agreement Cannot Be Exaggerated

The Good Friday Agreement is 20 years old. It delivered peace and stability in Northern Ireland because it enabled both of the traditions in Ireland to co-exist and to pursue their aims through the political process.

Peace replaced war because war was unwinnable and because - after 30 years, 3600 deaths and 30,000 either injured or imprisoned - the population had become weary of civil strife. If you are under the age of 45 it is hard to have a clear memory of The Troubles and if you are much less than 60 memories of the IRA campaign in England during the 1970s will by hazy. And while everyone with any sense wants to leave The Troubles firmly in the past, if we forget entirely then we run a serious risk of revisiting them. This is why we should always commemorate the end of conflicts, not the start.

The border between the six counties of Ulster that form Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was drawn with divisive intent, was divisive in practice, and became a focus for conflict. The removal of the border under the rules of the EU single market has enabled trade and made the lives of those who live nearby sensible - be it on crossing the border to see family members, or for hospital treatment, or simply to go to a football match. Like many of the land borders elsewhere in the EU, it really doesn’t matter. Because it doesn’t matter, the Republican tradition can live with it. Because it is theoretical, the Unionist tradition can live with it. Making it matter again would be a disaster.

Nobody in Ireland wants to go back to violence - least of all many of those who were directly involved in the last conflict. But in this respect it is important to understand that The Troubles did not start with mass demonstrations about civil rights. They started with a single shot*, they escalated through the dangerous talk of opportunist populists and sectarian revenge killings, they grew into vigilante groups ‘protecting their communities’ and civil disorder into which the British Army was drawn, first as peacekeepers but after a series of catastrophic mistakes as combatants in an unwinnable guerrilla war. The great majority didn’t want it then and nobody wants it now, but to pretend it could not happen is reckless and ignores the lessons of what has gone before. 20 years in the history of Ireland is no time at all.

So, in its practical effect, Brexit is a clear, if not immediate, threat to the peace of Ireland. Theresa May’s coalition deal with the DUP does what the Good Friday Agreement had carefully ruled out - it gives a single party within one of the traditions an effective veto over any progress. Not only has the DUP chosen to ignore the view of a very large majority of the population of Northern Ireland in the June 2016 referendum, but it also chooses to ignore the view of the same population on the Good Friday Agreement itself. Yet while they claim to be loyal to the United Kingdom, they cling to a set of unequal and discriminatory laws unique to the six counties on legal abortion and same sex marriage, driven by their sectarian fundamentalism.

In the European Parliament the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and maintaining an open border if Britain finally leaves the EU is of paramount importance. The EU is a peace project and, with the support of Labour MEPs, is committed to defending, throughout the Brexit process, the mechanism that has made the miracle of peaceful co-existence in the north of Ireland possible.

Posted by John Howarth
All Brexits are bad but what about Labour’s Brexit?

All Brexits are bad but what about Labour’s Brexit?

Wherever I appear at present, I find the same questions being asked of me: why is the Labour Party not opposing Brexit more forcefully? Why is Labour not attempting to stop Brexit?

It is worth observing that the questions are usually asked in such a way - and often through social media posts - that it is hard not to conclude that they are part of a Liberal Democrat strategy for the local elections that take place on 3 May. Soundbites of this sort are designed to filter out to potential supporters and those who agree with the proposition. Of course not everyone asking the question is a card-carrying Lib Dem supporter, but the fact remains that the General Election squeezed the Liberal Democrat vote, already at a low after the 2015 election, and although there are signs of a patchy recovery in by-elections it is a very long road back. Under the circumstances it is not surprising that the straw they have clutched at is Labour’s position on Brexit - after all, Labour is where the bulk of their remain supporting vote went.

So what really is Labour’s position?

In marked contrast to the Conservative Prime Minister, who has backed herself into a corner at every turn, Labour has never closed off options. The fact of a ‘leave’ majority in many Labour constituencies, the fact of a leave majority in most regions and the fact of a leave majority in the UK as a whole is a backdrop that it is simply not possible for Labour, as a party, to ignore. It was, therefore, important that Labour recognise the need for the UK Government to enter negotiations with the EU27 over the UK’s future relationship with the EU. And even though MPs are representatives, not delegates, it is also perfectly reasonable for Labour MPs at Westminster to seek to represent the views of their constituents if that is their judgement. The test is what those negotiations produce and whether or not the promises made to voters by those campaigning at the referendum can be met.

To measure that, Keir Starmer (pictured above with myself) who leads for Labour on Brexit, has put in place six tests against which any final deal should be measured and, should they not be met, commit Labour to voting against the final deal. They will ask of the deal:

  • 1. Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?
  • 2. Does it deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?
  • 3. Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?
  • 4. Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?
  • 5. Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?
  • 6. Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?

Will these tests be met?

In my view it is already clear that these commitments will not be met. It is already clear that Brexit will cost jobs, remove rights, fail to deliver ‘the exact same benefits’ and, crucially, will fail to manage migration in anything like the way that many of those who voted leave will expect. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are very unlikely to have their particular needs addressed. Brexit will not deliver for working people and least of all for the least well off.

So what is my position?

It is clear to me that Labour must bear in mind the welfare of the country and the views of its own voters when considering its votes on a final deal. All of the serious evidence shows that the great bulk, as many as 70% of Labour voters, voted to stay in the EU. That represents a majority of the Labour vote in almost all constituencies - including those with an ‘out’ majority. The overwhelming bulk of Labour members are pro-EU and Labour’s ‘new voters’ that brought landslide victories in Bristol West and Oxford East and pulled off shocks in Portsmouth South and, for goodness sake, Canterbury are overwhelmingly pro-European. So voting against the final deal is not just the right thing for Labour to do, it is keeping faith with its voters and makes electoral sense.

My personal position in all this is simple. I and my predecessor were selected and elected on a pro-EU manifesto. I represent constituents in a region where the referendum vote reflected the very close national result but where six of the ten MEPs are anti-EU. The other four MEPs including myself are pro-EU and I see it as part of my role to represent Labour voters and those other pro-EU voters in South East England who would otherwise be ignored. Also, my support for Britain’s place in the EU, which I regard first and foremost as a means of maintaining peace in Europe, is a matter of principle. Simple as that.

However, I am also pragmatic, and there is nothing in my position that prevents me working to limit the damage that Brexit will cause. If Britain does finally leave, I want to see the closest possible relationship with the EU that protects our economy, the rights of our people and the dreams of our young people. All Brexits are bad but some Brexits are undoubtedly worse than others.

Posted by John Howarth
Condemning Trump’s Trophy Hunting Madness

Condemning Trump’s Trophy Hunting Madness

John has signed a cross-party letter urging Donald Trump to halt attempts to lift the ban on elephant trophy hunting imports from Zimbabwe. 

The letter, written by Catherine Bearder MEP, gained the support of 63 cross-party MEPs and calls on Trump to instead work together with the EU and tackle rapidly declining biodiversity.

If successful, Trump’s plans would support the trophy hunting industry in Zimbabwe, a highly profit driven trade which employs a very small number of people, with very little benefit to local economies and conservation programmes.

John said, "I welcome my colleague's initiative and I am happy to sign this letter along with MEPs of all parties – it is very important that there is concern right across the political spectrum on this appalling action. The trade trophy hunting relics undermines the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) agreement. The actions of Mr Trump will bring the extinction of important species closer."

Like so much President Trump does, the measures have an uncomfortable closeness to the proclivities of the Trump family. His offspring are pictured above with wild animals that they have bravely killed from a distance and an elephant tail trophy. African elephants are endangered species listed under CITES since 1976.  

The text of the letter reads as follows:

8th March 2018

Dear President Trump,

We are disturbed by your administration’s decision to lift the ban on elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe. Elephants are endangered species and play important roles in the ecosystem maintaining the environment for hundreds of animal and plant species. African elephants have suffered catastrophic declines and studies have shown that trophy hunting is contributing to this downward trend.

Unlike poaching, trophy hunting is legal in Zimbabwe, however trophy hunting does not help with conservation efforts. The hunting business in Africa is a highly profit driven trade which employs a very small number of people and the revenue that trickles into local communities and conservation programmes is insignificant. In reality, wildlife management in many African countries is fraught with corruption.

In the European Union we have a comprehensive Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking which sets out a strategy for EU Member States to curb the scourge of the illegal wildlife trade which is causing irreversible damage to the planet and our society. Trophy hunting is proven to feed that illegal market and encourage the trade in illegal ivory.

We believe that the EU and the US should be working together to tackle the issue of rapidly declining biodiversity. The idea of killing elephants to protect their survival is counterintuitive and shown to be wrong. The hunting business is distorting conservation efforts and must be stopped if we want to preserve these and other endangered species. The combination of poaching and trophy hunting will lead to the extinction of elephants. We therefore press upon you to retract your decision to lift the ban and join the EU and the global community to conserve and protect endangered species.

Yours sincerely.

Catherine Bearder MEP (United Kingdom)

Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy MEP (Netherlands)

Keith Taylor MEP (United Kingdom)

Sophie Montel MEP (France)

Kateřina Konečná MEP (Czech Republic)

Ivo Vajgl MEP (Slovenia)

Jude Kirton-Darling MEP (United Kingdom)

Stefan Eck MEP (Germany)

Petras Auštrevičius MEP (Lithuania)

Theresa Griffin MEP (United Kingdom)

John Howarth MEP (United Kingdom)

Petr Ježek MEP (Czech Republic)

Alyn Smith MEP (United Kingdom)

Ernest Urtasun MEP (Spain)

Molly Scott Cato MEP (United Kingdom)

Marco Affronte MEP (Italy)

David Martin MEP (United Kingdom)

Patricia Lalonde MEP (France)

Paul Brannan MEP (United Kingdom)

Karoline Graswander-Hainz MEP (Austria)

Fabio Massimo Castaldo MEP (Italy)

José Inácio Faria MEP (Portugal)

Linda McAvan MEP (United Kingdom)

Merja Kyllönen MEP (Finland)

Monika Vana MEP (Austria)

Emil Radev MEP (Bulgaria)

Joachim Schuster MEP (Germany)

Nessa Childers MEP (Ireland)

Emma McClarkin MEP (United Kingdom)

Benedek Jávor MEP (Hungary)

Kathleen Van Brempt MEP (Belgium)

Robert Rochefort MEP (France)

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg MEP (Poland)

Florian Philippot MEP (France)

Claude Rolin MEP (Belgium)

Yannick Jadot MEP (France)

Jiří Pospíšil MEP (Czech Republic)

David Borrelli MEP (Italy)

Susanne Melior MEP (Germany)

Hilde Vautmans MEP (Belgium)

Carolina Punset MEP (Spain)

Florent Marcellesi MEP (Spain)

Csaba Sógor MEP (Romania)

Guillaume Balas MEP (France)

Lola Sánchez Caldentey MEP (Spain)

Jill Evans MEP (United Kingdom)

Charles Tannock MEP (United Kingdom)

Elmar Brok MEP (Germany)

Eleonora Evi MEP (Italy)

Helga Trüpel MEP (Germany)

Michal Boni MEP (Poland)

Karin Kadenbach MEP (Austria)

Olga Sehnalová MEP (Czech Republic)

Claude Turmes MEP (Luxembourg)

Jytte Guteland MEP (Sweden)

Olle Ludvigsson MEP (Sweden)

Jens Nilsson MEP (Sweden)

Marita Ulvskog MEP (Sweden)

Anna Hedh MEP (Sweden)

Karima Delli MEP (France)

Anja Hazekamp MEP (Netherlands)

Sirpa Pietikäinen MEP (Finland)

Dario Tamburrano MEP (Italy)

Alex Mayer MEP (United Kingdom)

Julie Ward MEP (United Kingdom)

Posted by John Howarth
Red Red Lines – Brexit Update

Red Red Lines – Brexit Update

This week the European Parliament debated the guidelines for the next phase of the Brexit negotiations. The resolution, that was approved by a very large majority, was heavily trailed in advance, though not all of the detail had made it into the media.

UK Labour MEPs abstained on the final vote on the resolution. It is properly the position of the EU27 and there were some aspects of the wording that, while largely statements of fact, could be misrepresented as being against the UK Government pursuing a successful negotiation. The Green Party and the sole LibDem voted for the resolution while, perversely, the Conservatives and UKIP voted against (with the exception of two who had the good sense to abstain). Aside from the strangeness of voting on the negotiating position of the other side when you want to leave, had the Tories and UKIP got their way the negotiations would have been unable to progress for the moment. The Conservatives took the whip away from two of their number who voted for the statement of fact that that sufficient progress had not been made in October (when there was no agreement between the UK and the EU27) yet now they vote against getting on with the job.

You can read the whole resolution, as amended - though there were very few amendments carried, here or via the European Parliament website. In summary, however, the following highlights are worth drawing out:

The draft withdrawal agreement

This is the draft legal document that is the basis of a treaty between the EU27 and the UK confirming the terms of the UK’s withdrawal. It is the ‘first phase’ agreement from December turned into formal legal language - so there are no real surprises. It can, however, still be changed and improved as agreed between the two parties. It does NOT answer the outstanding dilemma over the Irish border.

Citizens’ rights

This area, of great concern to many in through the EU, was covered in the first phase, however, aspects of the agreement on the rights of EU Citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU27 left a lot to be desired. In particular the rights of UK citizens living and working in the EU27 would be limited and qualitatively different to those enjoyed at present. The language of the resolution indicates that the EU27 is open to the current level of rights to be recognised and extended to include the right of future spouses. Future children had already been brought into the framework because of the Parliament’s influence, hopefully the UK government can now see it will be pushing at an open door to achieve better rights for its citizens who have built careers in the EU27.

Transition

The resolution confirms the EU27 view that the transition period from 29 March 2019 to 31 December 2020 will be under the current EU law and under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and that new EU legislation will apply to the UK during that period. You might ask then what is the point of transition at all? Because the UK would then be technically outside of the EU institutions the UK would be able to negotiate its own agreements with other ‘third countries’ (that’s the Euro jargon for countries outside the EU).

Though there is much talk of the transition providing stability and certainty for business, as things stand it simply puts off the problem by extending a plank over the cliff edge. 21 months isn’t long as international agreements go. There is also the distinct possibility that the UK could agreed to ‘park’ some of the more difficult issues to be sorted out during the transition when in fact the real purpose is to hide from the public the almost uniformly negative consequences of Brexit until it is too late.

The exact terms of the transition are the next thing that will be negotiated between the UK and the EU27, with hopes for an agreement at the March EU summit. In truth, given that the UK has little option but to accept the EU acquis (pron. a-kee) will apply there is not much top negotiate. Progress may depend upon the ongoing discussions on Ireland.

The future relationship and all that trade stuff

There is a difference in the cultures of the EU27 and the UK toward the negotiation. The EU prepares and issues detailed documents while the UK makes announcements in speeches. This is not my jaundiced take on things, it’s also what the UK Government says. This is all very well, but it has put the UK at a serious disadvantage and not helped. Part of a negotiation is understanding the other party and its mindset. It would appear that this has not really sunk in in Whitehall. The UK continues to talk in general and vague terms about what it wants while. The Parliament resolution (something else rather useful that Westminster doesn’t really do - not that the Government would allow mere MPs a say over that sort of thing) is, however, very clear about the kind of relationship that might be possible for the UK. The resolution states repeatedly that the ‘red lines’ set out by the UK Government (it seems more able to say what it doesn’t want than what it does want) rule out some forms of future relationship, nothing else does. It is crystal clear that the EU27 remains open to talking about a wider range of relationships should the UK government wish to approach the latest phase without pre-conditions. Everything from remaining in the single market, a relationship encompassing financial services to customs unions (and of course cancelling the whole self-harming Brexit project) on still available if only the UK government approached the negotiations with an open mind.

Given that this would seem unlikely, the resolution states that the best available option for the UK is a ‘Canada like deal’. That is a free trade agreement covering goods, not services and certainly not financial services. Such a deal would mean customs checks at Dover and elsewhere and the UK would have to meet EU standards to ensure access for UK goods. For an economy which is 80% services this is somewhat less than half a loaf.

On matters like fishing and agriculture the EU27 make it clear that for products to enter EU markets at all every standard will need to be met and that historic fishing rights will have to be respected. So much for controlling territorial waters.

Outside opting in

The Prime Minister of Luxembourg has described the situation thus: “The UK is inside opting out but will soon be outside opting in”. But what does ‘opting in’ mean?

The Parliament resolution is very clear in stating that the UK cannot expect to ‘cherry pick’ the aspects of EU markets and rules that it likes and avoid that things that are inconvenient. The EU27 have said all along and the Parliament resolution repeated the point that it simply won’t be possible to make an exception for this or that sector - say automotive and chemicals, while the rest of the economy sits outside the internal market. The UK can, however, opt in to EU programmes at a price.

In the UK media the fact that the UK Government has expressed desire to be part of the European Arrest Warrant, Europol and the Medicine Agency (that’s the one moving from London to Amsterdam) in the form of one of Theresa May’s speeches is sufficient to make it so. The reality is a little different. Participation in programmes, agencies and treaties (some for which there is no precedent - the EWA for example) will need, according to the Parliament resolution and Commission and Council statements, to be wrapped into an ‘Association Agreement’, the rationale being that the plethora of requirements of these very different areas of work will be best brought under a single umbrella agreement between the EU27 and the UK. In the end this is what will provide Theresa May with the fig leaf of having achieved “a deep and special partnership” - even when it is a good deal more shallow and considerably less special than that enjoyed at present.

Security

One area where the Parliament resolution builds on the seeming consensus between the parties is security co-operation. The EU27 are highly likely to want the UK involved in these essential networks. Even so, the Parliament resolution, while very positive about security co-operation, highlights the terms on which the UK can take part which is, essentially, accepting the EU rules and requirements on data an other sensitive issues.

So finally ...

The Parliament resolution takes a stage further Theresa May’s acceptance that ‘things will be different’ by setting out exactly how they will be different if the Tories maintain their current ‘hard Brexit’ approach expressed by their ‘red lines’. The EU27 position is open to the UK government changing its mind and dropping the red lines. The best that’s on offer right now is an agreement like that of Canada but, even though we’ve played out 21 months of this tragedy, the UK government still hasn’t said what they actually want in their ‘deep and special partnership’.

Oh and then there’s the Irish border ...

Posted by John Howarth
The Port of Dover – friction, Brexit and fiction

The Port of Dover – friction, Brexit and fiction

On 7 March, I hosted a reception on behalf of the Port of Dover for MEPs and policy specialists in the European Parliament, entitled ‘Brexit and cross-channel fluidity - Protecting a strategic link for the future of EU/UK trade: a UK perspective.’ (The EU specialises in snappy concise titles). Guest speakers included Tim Waggott, Chief Executive of the Port of Dover (pictured above with myself).

The purpose of the event was to build understanding of Dover’s role as the principal artery for trade from the UK to and from continental Europe; to discuss the challenges posed by Brexit, in particular traffic fluidity, customs, border formalities and transportation rules; and to enable the Port of Dover’s senior management to engage with MEPs and EU officials on the arrangements that might come into play at the point the UK leaves the European Union.

The political background is, of course, the promise by the Brexiteers that trade between the EU and Britain would remain ‘frictionless’ were the country to leave the EU. In the light of reality this is clearly a false promise. After hosting the event for Dover I am clearer than ever that the only way to maintain frictionless trade and safeguard our economy is to avoid the kind of hard Brexit that would take us out of the single market and customs union. Anything else is fiction.

The Port of Dover by (big) numbers

Dover is vitally important to the economic wellbeing of the UK:

  • It is one of the world’s busiest port for freight lorries: 2.6 million each year;
  • It is the single most significant point of entry for UK goods into the EU and EU goods into the UK, as well as providing the land route for goods moving by and from Ireland and the continent;
  • It has an economic value of £119 billion - 17% of the UK’s trade in goods;
  • It is also essential for supply chains relying on just-in-time deliveries.

The growing success of Dover has been based on frictionless trade enabled by Britain’s EU membership, the customs union and single market. In 1992 the Dover route accounted for around 1 million lorry movements, by 2016 that had almost trebled - once the Channel Tunnel is included it is almost 4 million.

At present, less that 1 percent of Dover’s arrivals have driven all the way across the EU to get to the UK, meaning documentation must be checked for only a few hundred lorries a day going to and from non-EU countries such as Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine.

There is no getting away from the physical realities of these trade volumes and no amount of fantasy technology and magic thinking can hide the fact that any kind of customs border imposes a requirement for inspections - otherwise it simply cannot work. So unless the current customs regime is safeguarded, every lorry that passes through Dover will have to undergo customs processing and in many, if not most cases, physical inspection. That is many thousands per day, 2.6 million per year. Currently, the facilities simply do not exist for this vastly increased workload and recent estimates suggest even two minutes spent processing each lorry would create 17-mile tailbacks.

No strategy from the Conservative government

The UK government talks of frictionless trade but doesn’t have a strategy to achieve this, nor does it seem to have contingency plans ready for Dover or other Ports. The government needs a plan and the public needs to know what that plan is. That they don’t appear to have one after all this time is shocking. They need to take this seriously.

The Port of Dover is quite right to say that if arrangements work at Dover, they will work for the UK but if they don’t work, it will be a disaster for the UK. If the Port of Dover stops working, there is a danger we will have food shortages in shops within days.

The Government is clearly banking on a transition arrangement maintaining the status quo for long enough to put new arrangements in place. Theresa May needs to come clean with people in Dover and east Kent on the reality of the new infrastructure needed to allow Dover to continue to function and to prevent Kent from becoming a car park for lorries destined for Europe.

The Port of Dover is vital to the economic wellbeing of the UK, but also Ireland, France Belgium and many other European nations. It is only through the UK remaining within the single market and customs union that we can avoid chaos at our borders, queues on our motorways, shortages in our shops, and a significant hit to the economic wellbeing of our country.

Posted by John Howarth
Fusion after Brexit?

Fusion after Brexit?

John writes:

On 20 February I hosted a reception for MEPs in the European Parliament entitled ‘Fusion after Brexit: Implications of Brexit and the UK’s departure from EURATOM on European Nuclear Fusion Research’. Guest speakers included Ian Chapman, CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority and Director of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (pictured back left above); Tony Donne, Programme Manager for EUROfusion (next left above); Jan Panek, Head of Unit ITER in DG Energy (right above) and Clare Moody MEP for South West England (front left above).

All spoke passionately about the leading role played by JET in paving the way for ITER and the delivery phase of nuclear fusion. This cross-party event was also an opportunity to discuss the impact of the UK’s departure from the EU, and significantly from the EU’s nuclear community – Euratom – which is putting this leading role in jeopardy.

JET and the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy are based in Oxfordshire, in my South East England constituency, and in November 2017 - ahead of our reception in the European Parliament - I was given the opportunity to tour JET and witness this incredibly impressive feat of science.

I’ve long been aware that fusion offers the prospect of plentiful clean energy when developed on a commercial scale, the first successful proof of concept experiments having been carried out at the centre. JET is an EU venture through and through, not only because it is far too big a project for any one nation state, but because it hinges on cross-border collaboration and involves scientists from every EU member state and beyond. The hundreds of scientists, engineers and technicians who visit the centre to conduct experiments, as well as the parts used to assemble the world’s biggest nuclear fusion reactor so far, come from all around the Union. Crucially, so does the €283 million that underpins the JET program for the five years through 2018.

All of this is threatened by Brexit, and the UK government’s decision to leave Euratom threatens the future of fusion research in which Britain has led the way. If and when this happens, any future progress and ground-breaking scientific research and collaboration could be threatened, losing the UK access to EU funding, inhibiting easy movement of scientists and stifling rapid and responsive cross-border work. The current funding for JET also ends in December 2018, so experiments in 2019 and beyond – vital for ITER preparation – are endangered if ongoing close collaboration between the UK and Euratom cannot be negotiated.

If the UK Government gets Brexit wrong, it will seriously damage Britain’s world-leading scientific reputation and with it the wider international fusion program. It is essential to both the UK and the rest of the EU that we somehow keep the UK as part of the Euratom community after Brexit - assuming it does, in fact, go ahead.

Fusion research will always be an international effort. By holding this event we helped to build support in Brussels for finding a way to sustain the partnership that will benefit Britain, Europe and the wider international fusion community.

Posted by John Howarth
Calling for action on the Rohingya crisis

Calling for action on the Rohingya crisis

I have co-signed the following letter to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs calling for urgent action on the Rohingya refugee crisis. Labour MEPs Wajid Khan and Richard Corbett recently visited the refugee camps in Bangladesh. There is little doubt that this massive ethnic cleansing is one of the greatest crimes against humanity we have seen in this young century. The situation will get much worst when the monsoon rains hit the area soon. Action on a world-wide scale is now required to avoid further catastrophe.

Dear High Representative / Vice President Mogherini,

We are writing to you ahead of the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on 26-27 February, which will take place exactly 6 months after the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar begun.

Since 25th August 2017, around 700,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed the border from Myanmar to seek shelter in Bangladesh. The UN says the Rohingya's situation is the "world's fastest growing refugee crisis" and describes the Myanmar military offensive as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing" bearing “the hallmarks of a genocide”.

According to recent research by Amnesty International[1], the Myanmar security forces’ devastating campaign against the Rohingya population is far from over, and there are ongoing violations that have forced hundreds more people to flee in recent weeks. This means that the agreed return of the refugees back to Myanmar is premature.

Therefore, we urge you to take additional measures as called for by the European Parliament in its resolution on the situation of the Rohingya people of 14 December 2017. In particular, we believe it is of the utmost importance that the EU Foreign Affairs Ministers adopt the following measures in order to exert significant pressure on Myanmar’s military to stop the violence:

  • Condemn the ongoing violence, grave human rights abuses and loss of lives, livelihoods and shelter in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States;
    Explicitly acknowledge that most likely crimes against humanity have been committed by the Myanmar security forces;
  • Impose travel bans and financial sanctions against those responsible for perpetrating criminal acts in Myanmar, including military commanders and senior officers, as requested in the Parliament’s resolutions of September and December 2017;
  • Suspend military assistance programmes, extend the scope of the existing arms embargo against Myanmar, and support the establishment of a UN-mandated global arms embargo;
  • Insist on immediate, unfettered and sustained humanitarian access to all people in need in Rakhine State and on access for the UN Fact-Finding Mission to carry out its mandate of conducting investigations into human rights violations;
  • Press the Myanmar Government to refer jurisdiction over grave human rights crimes committed since August 25, 2017 to the International Criminal Court, as a court of last resort under Art. 12(3) (acceptance of (ad hoc) jurisdiction under the Rome Statute) and urge the government to ratify the Rome Statute; explore all avenues for justice and accountability;
  • Insist that if any returns of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar do take place these are voluntary, dignified, safe and informed, with full UNHCR and OHCHR oversight of the process and fully compliant with international law;
  • Support the full implementation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission report;
  • Increase financial and material assistance to support durable solutions for refugees, making sure that the assistance is conditioned on non-discrimination, non-segregation and equality;
  • Pursue an EU long-term strategy in supporting the self-reliance and improved protection of Rohingya in Bangladesh, e.g. by ending limitations on their freedom of movement, improving access to livelihoods opportunities and job markets, ensuring children’s access to education; and providing for civil documentation with a view to securing status;
  • Call for the freedom of speech to be respected, for an immediate release of the Reuters journalists and urge Myanmar to bring its legislation on freedom of expression in line with international human rights law and standards.

We hope to be able to count on your support in this crucial matter.

Yours sincerely,

Wajid Khan MEP
Barbara Lochbihler MEP
Pier Antonio Panzeri MEP
Soraya Post MEP
David Martin MEP
Richard Corbett MEP
Amjad Bashir MEP
Urmas Paet MEP
Lucy Anderson MEP
Giacomo Zucchelli MEP
Miguel Alexandre Da Horta Cardoso MEP
Rory Palmer MEP
Margrete Auken MEP
Jude Kirton-Darling MEP
Jordi Solé MEP
Linda McAvan MEP
Hilde Vautmans MEP
Alyn Smith MEP
Baroness Nosheena Mobarik MEP
Clare Moody MEP
Bart Staes MEP
Mark Demesmaeker MEP
Barbara Spinelli MEP
Judith Sargentini MEP
Jose Inacio Faria MEP
Josef Weidenholzer MEP
Theresa Griffin MEP
Mary Honeyball MEP
John Howarth MEP
Maria Arena MEP
Maria Dolores Lola Sanchez Caldentey MEP
Dietmar Koster MEP
Margot Parker MEP
Arndt Kohn MEP
Goffredo Bettini MEP
Marie-Christine Vergiat MEP
Ernest Urtasun MEP
Younous Omarjee MEP
Sirpa Pietikäinen MEP

Posted by John Howarth
Love Trade Unions, love your rights

Love Trade Unions, love your rights

Last week was the TUCs’s Heart Unions Week, a week of celebration of the work trade unions and their representatives and stewards do across the country.

I joined a trade union as soon as I started work and I’ve been a member ever since. My Union, the NUJ, represents all sorts of people who earn their living with their pen - including a lot of self-employed and freelance staff working in all kinds of media businesses.

Despite some bad press over the years, the achievements of the trade unions remain relevant to the people who need their help most. Take the ‘McStrike’ at McDonalds; thanks to a small fraction of the workforce joining the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, bad working practices were challenged, and zero-hours contracts were stopped for all McDonalds staff in the UK. Clearly, union organisation in the workplace can benefit all employees and create better working conditions for everyone.

The simple fact is the more people who are members in a workplace the stronger the union and the better results they can deliver.

Trade unions have helped to apply pressure to successive UK Governments, forcing them to pass legislation that has allowed everyone to enjoy the workplace rights we now take for granted. This includes sick pay, enhanced maternity and paternity rights, and the implementation of anti-discrimination laws in the workplace, prohibiting discrimination based on gender or disability.

However, whilst pressure from trade unions has helped to change laws, we must remember that this pressure can be ignored unless coupled with pressure from another authority. 
In many cases, this has been the European Union.

The Labour Government elected by a landslide in 1997 delivered its promise to opt in to the Social Protocols of the European treaties within days of its election. It was a key, popular manifesto pledge and it made union membership by choice a right. The European Union has helped to set a minimum standard of rights and expectations in the workplace. The Working Time Directive has placed restrictions on the number of hours that employers can require employees to work. The EU has set essential workplace health and safety requirements, and again, thanks to EU membership, UK employees are entitled to four weeks of paid annual holiday.

Whatever the Tories say, leaving the EU will risk making Britain’s employment laws vulnerable to future Tory Governments lowering labour standards - and recent reports have expose the fact that the Tories are already planning to role rights back once the dust has settled on their hard, job-destroying Brexit. David Davis has said that a post-Brexit Britain will not be like some sort of ‘Mad Max’ style dystopian race to the bottom, but then Mr David contradicts himself for fun these days. The Conservatives and their mates have allowed a ‘race to the bottom’ to take place over terms and conditions and through contracting-out of jobs and by allowing cowboy employers to get away with zero-hours blackmail and institutionalised workplace bullying.

So do you really trust the Tories with your employment rights?

After Brexit, if and when it happens, UK citizens in the workplace risk being stuck with outdated and unfit workplace standards. There will be no obligation for future UK Governments, of any political stripe, to implement future EU regulations and directives, so there will a risk that the UK’s employment law will fall behind that of our European neighbours.

From conversations I have had with trade unionists and employers alike there is an increasing understanding that Brexit will hit ordinary people hardest and seriously damage many of our key industries. Key figures in the trade union movement are backing the UK staying in the single market and customs union to minimise the damage.

That’s great, but the best deal for working people in the UK is remaining in the EU. Any sort of Brexit will cost rights, jobs, and reduce living standards, with UK regions such as the North East and the Midlands, but also cities like Brighton, Oxford, Medway and Southampton being among the hardest hit.

If you are not a member of trade union, do consider joining one, and encourage your colleagues to do the same. If and when Brexit happens, it will be more important than ever to be part of a movement that will look out for your workers’ rights. Do not trust the hard Brexit Tories to do that for you.

Posted by John Howarth
UK should stick with the EIB says Labour MEP

UK should stick with the EIB says Labour MEP

It would be a mistake for the UK to end its involvement with the European Investment Bank, according to South East England MEP, John Howarth.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) provides investment in the infrastructure, business and social requirements of communities all over the European Union but also invests in projects outside the immediate boundaries of the European Union. Because the UK holds 16% of the EIB’s shares it would be entirely logical for the UK to continue its involvement and continue to benefit from the bank if and when the UK leaves the European Union.

Importantly the EIB lens in line with EU social and economic priorities, not just commercial lending criteria, at rates well below those of the commercial markets. In other words also for need, not just for profit.

Among its investments, the EIB’s lending has backed:

  • Crossrail in London and the Thames Valley
  • New secondary schools
  • The Thames Tideway Tunnel
  • The Port of Dover’s Western Docks expansion
  • 7 million smart meters in UK homes
  • The National Grid Upgrade  

John was speaking in a debate on the EIB’s annual report in the European Parliament and explained that the future infrastructure needs of a competitive Europe urgently require investment in low carbon infrastructure and inclusive digital networks and that the EIB would empower “the changing face of cohesion policy”(1). He also hit back at false UKIP claims, challenging them to campaign for the real interests of the UK and continued involvement with the EIB.

John adds; “The UK has received more than 30 billion in investment from the EIB for a 3.5 billion capitalisation stake in the Bank – the same as Germany, France and Italy. The UK, along with the other member states also provides guarantees on the EIB’s lending – but this was never a cash contribution. The phase withdrawal agreement clearly states that the UK’s guarantee ‘liability’ will be written down over the period of the outstanding loans it backs while the cash capitalisation contribution will be returned in a number of instalments (2).

“There is no question of the UK ‘not getting its money back’ as UKIP falsely claim. I think, however, it would be a much smarter approach to remain involved with the bank. There are all sorts of projects in the UK that badly need investment – not least the critical shortage of social housing.

“UKIP either don’t understand how an investment bank works, they can't add up or they are deliberately trying to mislead people. You decide.”

Despite the uncertainty over Brexit the UK continued to benefit from EIB continuing investment to the tune of 2.1 billion in 2017 alone.

 

Notes

(1) ‘Cohesion policy’ is the EU jargon for investment that improves the competitive position of poorer regions, including in the UK, through modernising infrastructure and social investment.

(2) UK officials regard the ‘liability’ of outstanding EIB loans as largely theoretical and the chances of the guarantees being called upon so unlikely that they have not included the figure in any part of the proposed financial settlement with the EU.

Posted by John Howarth
Reforms to the Media in the FYR Macedonia

Reforms to the Media in the FYR Macedonia

Speech to the Joint Parliamentary Committee - 7 February 2018

MEPs take part in delegations representing the European Parliament. In John's case he is a member of the delegations for the Caribbean states (CARIFORUM) and for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Speaking at a meeting of the Joint Parliamentary Committee, John, a member of the National Union of Journalists, talks of the challenges facing states in seeking to enhance media freedoms alongside reforms to judicial, parliamentary and public institutions and argues that similar challenges now face long-established democracies.   

 

President, fellow MEPs, Ministers and representatives of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. At the outset I was to emphasise that the nature of reform to the media, while part of the same set of essential reforms to enhance freedom and democracy, are qualitatively different to reforms to the judicial process, parliament, public administration and so on. Different because they take place against a rapidly changing backdrop of technological change that has transformed the industry in my working life as a media communications professional.

The challenges facing journalists and media organisations in countries inside and outside the European Union are in many respects the very same challenges. Financial, technological and political challenges that threaten the basis of the fundamental freedoms that this Union was established to protect and enhance.

The inability of first world democracies effectively to address these challenges has become only too evident through the events that have come to pass over the last few years.

So it almost seems to me a patronising process to talk with national representatives wrestling with fundamental problems of evolving democracy and I have no desire to appear to lecture. Nonetheless to join a club there are entry requirements and standards to be met and that’s the context in which this discussion takes place. The EU regards as essential:

  • Reform of the Public Service Broadcaster in order to ensure its independence and increase the quality of its reporting and overall content production
  • Establishing mechanisms for transparency and accountability in regard to government advertising
  • Addressing the media obstacles which journalists face in obtaining access to public information
  • Revising the legislature and procedural rules related to defamation, and promotion of self-regulation and arbitration as alternative to court action

The ‘Copenhagen Dilema’, in which the European Union seeks to assure itself of standards in candidate countries and accession states while there is no real means of maintaining those standards within member states, has always been there but is an escalating dilemma given the modern media landscape.

In this context the state is far from being the only actor of critical mass that can manipulate media to the benefit of vested interests. The same tools of disinformation are available to major corporations, to well funding interest groups and to rival states. While the techniques of disinformation have always existed their channels of influence on the population have been a great deal fewer and less direct.

In the end, however, the channels offered by new media technology are just channels - they be either can be channels of free expression or channels of control. The challenge for this Union and democratic states it to ensure they are the former.

I don’t often agree with the Australian/US media magnate Rupert Murdoch, particularly in view of the approach of his outlets toward the European Union and the UK’s membership, but he was absolutely right when he said that “professional journalism is not free, it has to be paid for”. To extend that, neither is a free media in a free society without cost.

Advertisers, if they can find a more direct route to consumers and decision makers through more cost-effective technologies, will take it. Consumers, if they can gain information in a more-timely and more cost-effective manner will take that route. Viewers who can watch programmes at their convenience and not at that of schedule managers will choose to do so.

All this adds up to declining profitability for print media and new formations for broadcast media, both of which mean fewer journalists, less investigative reporting - which is expensive and news that is harder to verify as factual. When coupled with an environment where immediacy is everything all this adds up to less professional, less reliable news.

This is the market context in which journalism and the media now operates but in which progress on issues of media freedom must nonetheless take place.

Progress there has been. The civil society organisation, the Observatory of Media Reforms, is monitoring the implementation of the 3-6-9 Plan re the reform of the media. They issued a periodical report in November that announced that the Macedonian Government has on the public broadcasting service, government advertising and access to information “partially fulfilled its obligations”. Unfortunately, on defamation, there has been no revision of the legislation at all, and the OBR believe that this is still “completely unfulfilled.” So while we welcome the progress that has been made on media freedoms within the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia we note the further progress to which we must all turn our minds.

State funded public broadcasting, able to compete effectively in the modern context I have outlined, remains an essential element of a free media - in fact I would argue it is more important than ever as a trusted sources on which populations can rely. In this respect establishing funding and regulatory frameworks which put publically funded broadcasters at arm’s length from the state and maintain and enhance journalistic independence are more essential than ever.

Equally, ensuring real balance, real choice and trustworthy journalistic standards in broadcasting networks, maintaining diversity of ownership and ensuring that output reflects cultural diversity will remain the challenge for all broadcasting regulators.

But possible the most important element of all is that journalists are able to operate freely and without fear; are able to challenge powerful interests without attack, are protected by the forces of the state and that those who would intimidated and coerce reporters are held to account. The acid test of this is when prosecutions take place and such attacks are eliminated.

The ability of all forms of journalism to operate effectively independent of pressures brought by political interests, in particular those holding the reins of state power will only remain possible if journalism is effectively funded so that publishers are able to withstand external pressure and financial leverage.

These things, as I have said, are not just a challenge for candidate countries and accession states. The European Union was established to maintain peace and enhance freedom. To continue to carry out that mission in the future this Union will have to give serious thought to how media freedom and journalistic integrity is safeguarded in a changing world where surpa-national powers are able to outgun the legal frameworks of all but the very largest nation states.

I look forward to the point where the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia joins us in meeting that challenge.

 

 

Posted by John Howarth