Complete customs fudge up

Complete customs fudge up

This week Theresa May, who rumour has it is the Prime Minister, split her cabinet into two teams. I imagine she had seen Alan Sugar doing his thing on ‘The Apprentice’ and figured it was as likely to work as anything else.

The task this week? To analyse over the course of 2 days (whilst juggling all their other responsibilities), the pros and cons of two different customs models. To do so Mrs May decided to mix the teams up a bit, after all the two established teams of Remainers and Brexiteers had not been getting very far. According to Downing Street, the arranged the members of the two working groups are based on their ministerial portfolios and expertise; not on the usual Remainer/Brexiteer fault lines.

The Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor were told to sit out this week’s task, barred from joining in the fun as they were deemed too pro-Leave or too pro-Remain to be able objectively to analyse the options. Perhaps Mrs May hasn’t read the former Mayor of Remain-er London’s newspaper articles.  Meanwhile Mr Gove, Mr Fox and Mr Clark were presumably deemed too have no strong views. Rumours that Foreign Secretary may resign were greeted with yawns all round. 

The models they have been looking at are the ‘softer’ option of the ‘customs partnership.’ This would see UK officials collecting tariffs on behalf of the EU for any goods coming to the UK that were subsequently destined for any other EU member state. Businesses would then claim back any tariff rebates from the Government if the goods stayed in the UK, and this should allow the free flow of goods from the UK to the rest of the EU and across the Irish border without further tariffs or rules of origin checks. So quite a lot like a thing we already have called the Custom Union just an awful lot more bureaucratic.

The other ‘hard’ option favoured by the Brexiteers is ‘maximum facilitation’, in which new technology and ‘trusted trader’ schemes would allegedly minimise the need for checks on goods at the border between the UK and Ireland. So quite like a border then, just with a touching faith in the magic of IT. Meanwhile it’s fair to say that the Channel ports are receiving nothing like the same attention even though they represent a much greater logistical problem than the border in Ireland. That’s simply because there is no party of religious fundamentalists able to hold the government to ransom from their power base in Kent and Suffolk.

Both of the customs options are untested, and both options would be, even by the Government’s own admission, ‘challenging’ to implement and monitor. Indeed, the EU negotiators have called both options ‘magical thinking.’ 

Mrs May re-convened the two working groups on Tuesday to try and come to conclusion on which customs model to use. After a 90 minute meeting, no conclusion was reached, as there had not been enough time to adequately analyse each option. 

Funny that. 

Mrs May and co are now seeking legal advice on the two options. 

Despite this exercise in holding hands and humming in an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable, it is clear that Mrs May would prefer the ‘customs partnership’ This is the option most likely to placate Arlene Foster and the fundamentalist DUP, who would never accept different rules for Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK (well, at least not on this), as Mrs May depends of them to prop up her fragile government. 

However, the MPs from the hard Brexit Tory European Research Group, headed up by the intellectual giant that is Jacob Rees-Mogg and otherwise quite cosy with the DUP, have this week written to Mrs May warning that the customs partnership proposal is ‘unworkable’ and could cause the ‘collapse’ of the Government.

If neither of these models are agreed on, there’s always the ‘backstop’ option.
Signed off by ministers on Thursday, this proposal would seek for the UK to match EU tariffs after 2020. Not an entirely silly suggestion but it does beg the question of why the UK is seeking to leave at all. Also it fails to deliver what Mrs May needs most, her riven Cabinet to come to an agreement on a negotiating position on which to talk seriously to the EU27 negotiators. 

We could all be forgiven for concluding that, far from providing badly needed clarity, all this is merely stirring the bottom of an already muddy pond. Right at the outset after the June 2016 referendum, Mrs May was warned by an experienced and knowledgable official that triggering Article 50 before the Government had developed its negotiating position would be a mistake. The official in question was removed while the Prime Minister listened instead to her dynamic duo of Fiona and Tim. As with so many other things Batgirl and the Bearded Wonder proved to be entirely and utterly wrong. Two years down the line and four months (the EU it’s shut in August) from the effective end of the practical period for negotiations the official in question has been proved right. 

Throughout the process has been the political requirement of Mrs May in holding together the Conservative Party rather than. By the practical of economic needs of the country. The problem is that in the modern Conservative Party the ideological divide over Europe long since became a defining issue - selection, promotion and preferment - the things that many politicians care about above all else - have all been determined or at least tinged by how one may straddle the great divide. In this respect Mrs May’s tenure more resembles that of Harold Wilson than any other modern premier - it’s all about muddling through when decisive leadership is the order of the day.

Nonetheless, Wednesday saw the announcement from Mrs May that the Government are now to publish a Brexit White Paper, which would set out the priorities of Britain’s future relationship with the EU. This is allegedly going to be a ‘detailed, ambitious and precise’ explanation of what the Government hopes the final deal is to deliver, and is expected to contain a plan for a customs relationship that will avoid re-establishing a hard Irish border, the UK’s future security relationship with the EU, the financial services sector, aviation and fisheries. In other words all the stuff that should have been ironed out before Article 50 was triggered.

We’ll wait and see how ‘detailed’ and ‘precise’ this explanation turns out to be. But it ain’t looking too good. 

Posted by John Howarth
Mental health awareness week: make time for a curry and a chaat …

Mental health awareness week: make time for a curry and a chaat …

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week (14-20 May). This year the Mental Health Foundation are encouraging us to get together for a ‘curry and a chaat.’    

In addition to being a trans-lingual play on words gathering together with your mates to have a curry and a couple of drinks is thought to appeal across genders but not least for men. Increasingly, it is becoming more and more important for men to open-up about what’s going on in our heads. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, yet men find it harder to talk about their emotions.  

A year ago the Mental Health Foundation surveyed over 2,500 people who had experienced mental health problems and found that only a quarter of men asked had told a friend of family member what they had been going through. More than a third waited up to two years. 28% of men had not sought any help at all for their mental health problem.     

This emotional reticence is almost certainly a by-product of the conventional male role. According to mental health boffin Joseph Vandello, professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, there are two masculine ideals: procreator and protector. Conventional conceptions with which most of us have grown up dictate that men are meant to look after families, whether that be financially as the main breadwinner, or by making sure that everything is under control. Control is demonstrated by being the strong, silten, reserved ‘alpha male’ who doesn’t express feelings openly. Men are ‘supposed’ to be strong, dominant, and silent.

But while the world has changed a great deal. The role of the modern male is not what is was. In particular ‘male jobs’ in the mines, the factories and the farms, often no longer exist. Men in many parts of the UK lack regular work while women work and provide much of the household income. But while the world has moved on human beings don’t evolve so quickly. Theorists have even linked this change of balance to the alienation that aided the vote to leave the European Union.

We need a change in societal conditions to get men admitting when things aren’t quite right. The beermat campaign run by Time to Change has been widely applauded for its attempts to reach out to men to encourage them to get talking about mental health. With taglines like “Is there a mate missing around the table? Reach out to him”, and “If your mate’s acting differently, it could be a sign of a mental health problem - Reach out, Be Yourself, Do What You Love Together” They have been sent to pubs and bars all around the UK to help spark possibly life-saving conversations. If more men get chatting with their mates, more men will start to see that they’re not alone.

Maybe sometime we can all get to a point where being strong does not mean going it alone. In the meantime the work of mental health awareness will continue.

Posted by John Howarth
2018 local elections: modest gains for Labour

2018 local elections: modest gains for Labour

Over the years John has written post-election analysis of local and national elections both for Labour Party consumption and as journalistic content. This is his analysis of the outcome of May 3rd’s local elections.

Pictured above: John visited 24 constituencies with wards involved in the local elections in 2018. Pictured above with successful candidates, Ellie Emberson (19) one of Labour's youngest councillors (Minster Ward, Reading) and Lisa Mitchell (Portswood Ward, Southampton) an excellent gain for Labour.

The local elections on 3 May presented a mixed picture for Labour. There is nothing new in that and it is always advisable to remember that local elections are just that - local elections. Party leaders, though often a factor, are not themselves candidates, so it can be dangerous to conclude too much from any set of results. The strength of a local campaign, the prominence of specific local issues that can shift votes at the margin can make a big difference as can the strength of local political brands and the significance of the choices on offer - whether change one way or the other is a realistic option.

The next thing we should not, lest we forget, if we live in times where the political continuum has been disrupted by perception changing events - a third party involvement in Government, the emergence of populism, referenda and changes in the two large Parliamentary parties. This leads us, or should, to question whether the usual rules still apply to local elections. One of those rules tends to be that the first set of local elections that follow a General Election tend to be the ‘most local’ in the sequence - voters focus more on the local decision as national decisions are some years away and the most proximate national decision is the vote recently cast.

What happened in the South East?

In general Labour did a little better in the South East Region than its performance across the country. There were 28 Labour gains and eight losses - a net gain of 20 seats. That is a little better than a performance in line with those at local elections in recent years, but other than in a few outlying results didn’t stretch Labour representation beyond what we’ve come to expect since 2010.

Labour held control in Crawley with narrow victories in key wards, where it was defending a slim majority from a good result in 2014 - a well organised and no doubt very satisfying defence that sets up a platform for continued Labour control. Hastings remained solidly in Labour hands returning an unchanged outcome after a boundary adjustment. A great performance in Slough saw Labour win all but one seat while solid results in Reading and Oxford maintained control comfortably. Labour was less fortunate in Southampton - where three gains and three loses maintained a complicated position and a small overall majority while in Milton Keynes Labour slipped from parity with the Conservatives though the Council remains with no overall control.

UKIP Unwind

UKIP, as predicted lost almost all of the seats they were defending and the overwhelming bulk of its vote. This is highly amusing and very welcome though perhaps a little early to scatter their ashes

The UKIP vote, like any of the ‘not the other two’ votes (LD, SDP, Green) has different motivations in different places. When UKIP first came to notice it took its vote from the Conservative Party and made most progress in Conservative areas – most typically rural/semi-rural parts of deep blue seats. That changed almost immediately David Cameron announces his cunning plan for a referendum which happened to coincide with the biting of public service cuts and falling living standards. UKIP then began to cut more substantially into the Labour vote. Strange though it may seem UKIP even gained support from the LibDems where it inherited the franchise for ‘beating the other lot’ from either Labour or Conservative and, similarly, benefitted from negative tactical votes in some areas.

Not surprisingly then, the unwind of the UKIP vote helps different parties in different places and the unwind in the South substantially helps the Tories. We shouldn’t forget that initially the drift to UKIP helped Labour win seats by shaving the Tory vote. When the UKIP vote unwinds its no surprise that the opposite happens. The mistake was not to understand the power and appeal of nationalism in times of crisis.

The last and the next general election

Early results can deceive on local election nights. Some of the most disappointing Labour performances nationwide were early in the evening, which balanced out as the night went on. However, there are still clear and continuing trends which present as fragments of the General Election result last June.

In Milton Keynes, Reading West, Southampton Itchen, Crawley and to a lesser degree Hastings Labour found it more difficult to produce convincing results that suggest these constituencies will with one more heave deliver five bottoms to the green benches.

Meanwhile in the contrasting demographics of Southampton Test, Oxford, Reading East, Slough and Portsmouth South as well as ‘greater Brighton’ Labour moved onwards and upwards.

Currently Labour undoubtedly has appeal to particular segments of the electorate. The challenge remains as ever that, on their own, those segments are insufficient to deliver a Labour Government with a working majority. The challenge for Labour remains to build a coalition of political support that can deliver an electoral and social majority.

Politics and Organisation

Some of the gains may have lessons. Victories that are expected – established marginals that are worked year after year are often victories of organisation as much as politics, especially in low turnout elections.

Such organisation undoubtedly helped successfully to defend many of Labours most vulnerable seats. Labour gains beyond the expected are rarely about organisation. They frequently rely on a strong political message that chimes locally and is built upon genuine community involvement, building around local issues and presenting consistent messages through multiple channels. In other words by doing politics and spotting opportunities to progress.

Developing the Labour Party as a genuine community-rooted political organisation that can engage locally rather than hand out canvass scripts and regurgitate national messages has never been a priority whoever has been running the show. The challenge of re-engagement with essential sections of the electorate is to do exactly that. Developing genuine local strategies, responding to genuine local concern and becoming advocates for place and part of what local political parties should be about - it is also the way to win locally when times are tough.

Posted by John Howarth
6 ways the EU budget can improve climate action

6 ways the EU budget can improve climate action

This week the EU’s Budget Committee held a public hearing on the EU Budget and the Paris Climate agreement. It was an opportunity for MEPs to question the EU Commission, Court of Auditors, the European Investment Bank and other experts on the effectiveness of the Budget and the EU’s intention to put an increasing proportion of the budget to work addressing climate change.

In a few days, the European Commission will unveil its proposal for the European Union’s (EU) next long-term budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021-27. It is important that the proposal is ever more ambitious in tackling climate change, protecting the environment and biodiversity.

The EU has played an instrumental role in pushing forward international climate change negotiations such as the Paris climate agreement. EU laws were crucial in cleaning up British beaches and bathing waters. It was the EU that took the British government to court for failing to enforce rules on air pollution. Gone are the days of the UK being the ‘dirty man Europe’, an achievement very much connected to the UK’s EU membership.

While the EU has undoubtedly also played an important role in spearheading climate and eco-friendly policies, the challenges in these areas are huge and there is far more to do.

Here are six things the EU and its member states could immediately do to improve the environmental and climate impact of their spending:

1) Making the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) greener

Although the CAP as percentage of the EU budget has been falling in recent years, it is still the largest single spending item and accounts for 38% of the EU budget. Agriculture is one of the main causes of climate change and therefore must play an important role in finding a solution.

Despite many reforms of the CAP to address climate, biodiversity and environmental concerns, there is still a long way to go to achieve a really green CAP. The ‘greening the CAP’ payments are meant to rewarding them for taking care of the environment. However the EU auditors in their recent assessment concluded the scheme is “not yet environmentally effective”. In the next round of funding the EU needs to ensure that climate incentives are not simply income support for farmers by another name.

2) Supporting the transformation of the transport sector to zero emission vehicles

The transformation of the transport sector toward zero emission vehicles is well under way. However the infrastructure implications are great. Widespread electric vehicles will place new demands on power distribution and will require major investment in power networks. The budget, mainly through the EU’s Cohesion and Connecting Europe funds, will need to be able to respond effectively during the next MFF.

3) Introducing a ‘Just Transition Fund’

The EU needs to transform itself into a sustainable low-carbon economy. However, the change to renewable energies should ensure that communities built on extractive industries benefit from the change. This is why my Labour colleague Theresa Griffin and I tabled an amendment to the Parliament’s report on the next MFF, calling for the introduction of a ‘Just Transition Fund’. This fund should focus on the creation of high quality, sustainable jobs together with retraining and new skills in clean processes and technologies, and enhancing social protection schemes. To be successful the fund will need to be backed by a coherent industrial policy and long term backing for emerging industries. Retail parks and distributions centres will not offer the kind of jobs that can effectively sustain communities in moving beyond coal.

4) Expanding the LIFE programme

LIFE is the only financial instrument in the EU budget exclusively dedicated to the environment, climate and biodiversity. Currently it is only 0.3 % of the EU budget. It should be extended, including spend on Natura 2000, to at least 1% of the EU budget.

5) Strengthening conditionalities in cohesion funding

It is time to ensure that the EU’s cohesion funding, the second largest budget area after agriculture, delivers on climate change. New conditions need to be brought to bear to ensure that projects genuinely comply with climate action requirements and funding of projects that increase climate damage need to be phased out.

6. The member states need to pitch in

The EU budget is comparatively small. It stands at about 1% of the 28 EU countries' gross domestic product (GDP) – the total value of all goods and services produced in the EU. By contrast, the budgets of EU countries represent 46,3 % of GDP on average. This shows that the EU budget cannot address this major global challenge alone - member states will need to commit to climate action either themselves or by committing to joint action.

The next MFF is an important opportunity to help achieve the EU’s and international climate and environmental goals. We and our planet cannot afford to miss it.

Posted by John Howarth
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