A Labour vote: against this Tory Brexit and for a different Europe

A Labour vote: against this Tory Brexit and for a different Europe

Europe is at a crossroads. The certainties of the post-Cold War era were shaken by 9/11 and its aftermath and blown away by the 2008 financial crash and the decade of depression that followed. The roots of Brexit and the rise of new right populism are inherently linked to these events. The response of European social democracy has been well intentioned but slow and overly traditional, frequently relying on institutions that themselves have failed to adapt to circumstance.

Europe’s progressive forces have led the political development of the continent at important points and must learn to do so again. This does not require simply numbers in the European Parliament - though they help - it requires leading ideas that can command consensus, building movements that embody European ideals in today’s context and have the capacity not just to win arguments but to achieve consensus and pull the centre back toward the left. The creation of a new settlement of inclusion for the many.

While in some respects it may seem that progressive forces in Europe are historically weak, everything is relative. The centre right is also struggling. The lack of nuance in the response to the financial crash and Eurozone crisis, while ticking fiscal boxes and delivering the confidence of markets, trashed confidence in the social market model and left behind far too many people. Now the centre right struggles with the consequences and, while they might reject conservative nationalism and alt-right populism in theory their lack of answers too often leads to acquiescence. So the task, as ever, is shifting the consensus - not just back to where it was, but to a new post-populist settlement.

Owning the agenda and enabling solutions informed by progressive and socialist ideas requires the ability to address the great challenges of climate, freedom, technological transformation, the nature of work and education, fair taxation and sustaining peace and development in a destabilised international order. Europe frequently finds itself at crossroads - it’s a big continent with a lot of crossroads, but the breadth of challenges and the dark political backdrop should convince us of the critical importance of this juncture. In each of these areas there are seeds of hope in new thinking and the open-minded approach that recognises that neither the economic nor political dogmas of the twentieth century are fit for the age in which we live.

Socialist and progressive thinking brings a lot to the mix, but central and essential is a recognition that left to their own devices markets, as well as producing great innovations, produce great inequalities. The European Union remains the only real and partially successful attempt to address the inadequacies of the nation state and enhance its successes. Far from being the enemy of the nation state the EU, reformed and revitalised, can be the protector of national identity, the enhancer of national and regional culture and the guarantor of both the power of governance and of individual liberty. The potential role of the EU in calling to account transnational commercial interests and charting courses for progress on supra-national challenges remains self-evident. If it didn’t exist it would have to be invented.

Nonetheless, radical reform - institutional, political and budgetary is essential if the EU is to survive, prosper and regain the confidence of public and polity. While perceptions of democratic deficit are dated to some degree, the EU has much further to go. To overcome those perceptions the Union needs both to establish effective dialogue with its citizenry and further empower its elected politicians. Leaders fitted with tin ears fail to understand that pragmatism in a crisis is the best protector of progress while flexibility, scrutiny and responsiveness are not words that lend themselves to the governance of the Union - they need to be. Ensuring the accountability of the Commission through effective democratic scrutiny an essential first step both to regaining public confidence and delivering better evidence-based policy making.

One set of elections will not bring about the solution to these issues but they should be part of that road. The electoral programme of the Socialists and Democrats provides a vision of economic progress in which communities can see the prospect of ‘just transition’ - assistance and investment in moving to a post-carbon society rather than market abandonment. It offers a route where the priority for climate action and responsible environmental stewardship is based not merely on pious appeals to changing individual behaviour but on pragmatic but concerted governmental and social intervention to create the flow with which people can go. The new social democratic politics seeks to lead a reality that leaves behind the notion of leaving people behind. That will require an economic justice built on the understanding that inclusive digital societies must abandon old notions of an education that ‘ends’ and embrace a notion of education that ‘is’ and in turn, hard as it may be, rebuilds a value system where knowledge is ‘good’, is encouraged and is, yes, rewarded. Alongside this sits that old but ever more relevant adage best ironically summed up in the language of the time by that ultimate pragmatist, Harold Wilson - “The Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing”. Socialists have struggled through their history with the balance of the individual and collective, most frequently in the balance between the power of the state and the freedom of the individual. It has tarnished the brand and ruined the perceptions of the left for generations. A decisive break from that past is crucial to the relevance of progressive ideas in the future for the notion of the individual subsuming their interests to that of the collective will never again fly - any progressive vision has to encompass the enhancement and protection of freedom. Continuing progress on the long road to gender equality, to the liberation of personal identity, the celebration of diversity and cultural freedoms all contribute to a world where the individual can be what they want to be, where discrimination and racism is once again unacceptable and where a set of modern values of citizenship and responsibility can be fostered.

So, assuming these elections to the European Parliament go ahead, a Labour vote is a vote not just against the incompetence and failure of this damaging Tory Brexit, but is also a vote for a different Europe. A Europe that uses its power to ensure that multinational corporations can no longer within impunity duck and dive to avoid paying fair taxes when ordinary people have no choice. A Europe where the tech giants are not allowed to exploit their monopoly power to manipulate data, violate the privacy of citizens, rip-off consumers online and exploit creative workers for mega-profits. A Europe where we can mobilise resources to combat climate change, where we can continue down the long road toward genuine gender equality and a Europe where the long battle to defend peace and democracy can be won.

A Labour vote is also a vote for a Europe that is a powerful, progressive voice on the world stage, a counter weight to Trump and Putin, using our collective strength to aid development, promote environmental responsibility and to stand with those who defend democracy and human rights.

It’s a new battle in an old fight - the good fight for peace, jobs and freedom - let’s go out and win it.

John Howarth MEP
12 April 2019.

Posted by John Howarth
Why does the U.K. have to have European Parliamentary Elections?

Why does the U.K. have to have European Parliamentary Elections?

It seems odd to many that nearly three years after a referendum that voted to leave the EU the U.K. is on the point of holding elections for the European Parliament. Of course the U.K. would not need those elections at all if it had managed to leave the EU on the timescale envisaged by the Government. That the U.K. hasn’t is entirely down to the Government.

So why does the U.K. need to have MEPs in place for what could be a very short period?

Under the international treaties (agreements) between the member states that are the rules of the EU, member states must have MEPs elected by their people and to the countries share of the votes in the Council - the two bodies that make EU law. So no election, MEPs, no membership.

Why does this matter? Could the U.K. just not send MEPs?

If the U.K. didn’t sent MEPs but was still a member state the decisions of the European Parliament made without U.K. MEPs could be legally challenged. The EU is a ‘rules based organisation’. The Union must follow the legal process.

Why could the U.K. not just make a special arrangement?

This is theoretically possible, however everyone else would have to agree to a special ‘protocol’ - an addition to the treaty that would allow the U.K. to make appointments. Approving such an agreement would taking time. MEPs cannot serve in national and the European Parliament, so who could be legitimately appointed?

What if the U.K. started Elections and called them off as it then left the EU?

This would be a problem because the elections would leave U.K. citizens in the EU27 would be entitled to vote in the 27 Member States, some may have voted, calling into question the legality of the elections. Similarly, EU citizens who voted or expected to vote in the U.K. would have been denied a vote in their home country. So for the U.K. to commence elections and not to conclude the process could be seen to be deliberately disruptive. Anyway, doesn't the Prime Minister understand we are quite enough of a laughing stock as it is?

What if the U.K. took part in the elections and the MEPs didn’t take their seats?

Less of a problem if a little odd, as well as being another sure way to wind up the EU27. In any case, the one point at which the U.K. must have MEPs in the Parliament is if and when the treaty governing the UK’s exit is ratified, otherwise the treaty is invalid so the terms of the UK’s exit could be legally questioned.

Why was President Macron so wound up about all this?

It wasn’t just him. The seats in the Parliament had been reorganised for the elections without the U.K. so that some member states got a few more MEPs - including France. It is more than a little inconvenient to revert to the old distribution.

Surely Theresa May understands this?

You might think so. I couldn’t possibly comment.

Posted by John Howarth
Gains for professional drivers in mobility package

Gains for professional drivers in mobility package

Three legislative reports, known together as ‘the mobility package’ have been making painfully slow progress through the European Parliament in the later period of this legislature. The package finally and somewhat unexpectedly was approved by the Parliament meeting in Brussels on 4 April.

Opposition to the mobility package came from several different sources - those on the right who felt it imposed too many obligations on haulier businesses, those in Eastern Europe with concerns about the impact on drivers operating away from their home country and a group of people who didn’t feel the package was going far enough. Add to this mix a Rapporteur (each of the report has a different one - so that’s a lot of people involved) who proved unable or unwilling to move the negotiations on.

It’s worth a little diversion here (excuse the pun) because this is a good illustration (for those who are interested) of how things are done in the European Parliament. The Rapporteur is an MEP appointed by the responsible Committee to lead the process on a report. They draft the response of the Committee to the draft laws tabled by the European Commission (the civil service). The Rapporteur will draft amendments or develop the text of the report which will be voted upon by their Committee along with those tabled by the shadow Rapporteurs appointed by the other political groups (rapporteurships are allocated to the different political groups in the Parliament according to their size). The Rapporteur and the shadows will ususally on a significant report try to negotiate compromise positions likely to gain majority approval - though this doesn’t always happen nor succeed. One further complication is that on many reports more than on Committee has a say on a piece of legislation. For example here the Transport Committee was the lead Committee on the Mobility Package but the Employment Committee was also involved as the report came into its competence. In this case each committee has a Rapporteur - they do not always agree as they may have different politics or come at the issue from a different perspective. Where there are many different views and perspectives it can be very complicated to get a result. You might wonder why the Parliament has such a complex process - well the world is a complicated place and if you are going to get leislation that works you need a process that takes account of that.

This latest Mobility Package was seeking to address a number of problems: rest breaks, safety provisions and ‘work-life balance’ for professional drivers; competition issues within the industry; and migratory ‘undercutting’ that has produced distortions in the market. Long distance driving is one area where the requirement to do things at a European level is obvious and where the effect of drivers from the U.K., Brexit or not, is equally so. The ability to implement and police such legislation did not exist until tachographs because sufficiently smart to record geo-positioning of vehicles, thus tracking in which member states a vehicle was operating at any time is now practical.

This ability to police legislation is essential. The problem of professional drivers being ‘posted’ to other member states where they work internally for wages much lower than their local counterparts is frequently exploitative, disruptive of family life, causes distortion of local markets and resentment from the local workforce. The package seeks to limit this practice (know for some reason as cabotage) within limits that restore work-life balance and broadly require the same pay for the same work in the same place.

In the end the mobility package was approved despite a rearguard that involved the repeated tabling of many hundreds of amendments and procedural attempts to kill the legislation through repeated postponement. In the end, however, a majority was established and Socialists and Democrats found a compromise with other groups that delivered the key elements the transport unions had sought but which protected haulier businesses and therefore jobs. It may be difficult, it is necessarily complex but it is undeniably important that if the EU is to mean anything to working people then it must be able to address issues like those in the mobility package.

Posted by John Howarth
Put it to the People March – a moment of significance

Put it to the People March – a moment of significance

Estimates of the Put it to the People march on Saturday vary, with between one and two million people taking to London’s streets to protest ever so politely that Brexit has failed, Parliament is gridlocked and thus the question should return to the people from whence it came.

Over the year the organisers of marches in the capital have provided the highest estimate of numbers. This time, as with the last two People’s Vote demonstrations, the police provided a higher estimate, stating officially that around two million people attended, making it officially the biggest protest march the UK has ever seen. Behind that figure there are countless stories of people who felt they simply had to be there despite having been in hospital only a few days before. Good on all of them. Some spent four or five hours going nowhere as the throng struggled to leave Hyde Park, others, overwhelmed by the volume of people, drifted into spill over marches down The Mall and through the surrounding side streets and stopping in the unforecast sunshine to picnic in one park or other. Many heard no speeches but nonetheless felt their point was well made, especially by the now five million and rising ‘Revoke’ petition.

Much of the media comment was entirely predicable, though even some hostile journalists had to recognise the scale of the event and, more remarkably how each of the three ‘historically large’ marches for a final say have grown larger amid the usual stuff seeking to undermine the numbers. One particular comment did catch my eye, that of Sarah Vine who, I’m told, is a columnist of some kind (not one I bother with). Her contention on this occasion, that the march was a ‘mob’ who would have “lynched” any leave voters who dared to show their faces, is so hopelessly wrong. For what it’s worth at Hyde Park I saw a man walking through the demonstration on his own with a placard bearing a ‘better off out’ message. As my knee was hurting (it does that these days) I sat on a bench and watched him for around twenty minutes while he was just being ignored. Talking to some police officers it was clear that their extra preparation for the day ahead amounted to nothing more than buying extra rounds of sandwiches. The whole thing was entirely genteel and an exhibition of the real British values of reasonableness. Elsewhere things are not so relaxed. The implied and not so implied threats from assorted Brexiteers of ‘other means’ should the failure that is Brexit be again put to the test are intended to alarm. Unfortunately with some who should know better this stuff has an effect - but it can and must be resisted.

Sceptical as I and many others are about what protests such as this achieve, let’s be in no doubt that this was a moment of significance. The immediate effect on the national catastrophe facing the UK remains to be seen. It may be that the Government ploughs on despite all the evidence that calls into doubt the whole process and In particular the claim that Brexit is still somehow ‘the will of the people’ It may be that the UK leaves the EU, but political movements of this size don’t simply melt away; if ignored the resentment merely grows.

The demonstration prior to the second Gulf War that was surpassed in numbers at the weekend was an indication, at a time when option polls showed the public in support of removing Saddam by force, that the action would prove fatally divisive. Brexit, already socially toxic, is not just going away any time soon.

 

Above: John joins Oxford for Europe at the London demonstration on Saturday 23 March 2019

Posted by John Howarth
Brexit: Theresa May – done but dangerous

Brexit: Theresa May – done but dangerous

Politicians at some time in their careers pass a point of no return. It happens in many different levels in many different ways but the consequences are the same for everyone - you’re done. For those in the highest office it can happen in a very public, very brutal way. This week is almost certainly one such time. 

Theresa May is done - for the remainder of her time in office she’s a dead Prime Minister walking. At whatever point the Brexit fantasy that has dragged the country into its greatest humiliation since the loss of the American colonies under Lord North is finally over, then the Conservative Party will lead Mrs May off to her seat in the House of Lords. This week was a new low. A Prime Minister on national television blaming Parliament for the nation’s plight, attempting to set the people against their MPs - including her own. In what world does that kind of nonesense win people over? What kind of advisor gives that kind of advice? What kind of person wants the top job but won’t own the responsibility?

We shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve seen it before. There was a General Election, with a manifesto and everything, a shoo in for the Tories - but it all fell apart, Mrs May fell apart and proved not to be up to leading. In the aftermath she sacked her advisors - who may have been culpable, but to hide behind your staff, in business or in politics is a low and cowardly act. Mrs May was allowed to get away with such appalling behaviour because nobody else seriously wanted the poison chalice and, even had they, the Conservative Party just didn’t want another leadership contest. 

So we stumble through crisis after crisis to arrive at this week when the blame game that started some time back bubbles to some kind of climax and the Prime Minister decides that the buck doesn’t stop with her.

So just to remind ourselves:

  • The Prime Minister signs off the Government’s approach to leaving the EU Brexit devised by a close circle in Number 10. 
  • The Prime Minister tells us ‘Brexit mean Brexit’ - a searingly stupid slogan.
  • The Prime Minister declares Article 50, though it there is no plan - the signature on the letter is the Prime Minister’s.
  • The Prime Minister calls a General Election with a double digit poll lead.
  • The Prime Minister loses the plot and her majority with it.
  • The Prime Minister, despite the indecisive election, presses ahead with a ‘hard Brexit’ approach setting out ‘red lines’ that conflict with other objectives, particularly on trade.
  • The Prime Minister say the UK will leave the Euratom treaty - but hasn’t thought it through.
  • The Prime Minister declares ‘citizens of the world’ are ‘citizens of nowhere’ - further alienating people who see themselves as European.
  • The Prime Minister says it would be a mistake to disclose the UK’s position. Negotiations start - for many months the EU27 asks ‘what does Britain want?’
  • The Prime Minister fights a court case over Parliamentary sovereignty and loses.
  • The Prime Minister nonetheless refuses to involve Parliament in oversight of the negotiations.
  • The Prime Minister eventually gets an agreement in December - she delays the vote for a month.
  • The Prime Minister loses the vote by 230.
  • The Prime Minister ignores Parliament and brings back the same plan.
  • The Prime Minister says she won’t play for time.
  • The Prime Minister delays the vote for two months.
  • The Prime Minister fails to get any changes to the deal.
  • The Prime Minister loses the vote by 149.
  • The Prime Minister delays again.
  • The Prime Minister says it’s not her fault.

Spot the common words in the above sentences. My case rests.

Theresa May bought herself a degree of respect from the public for ‘sticking to the task’, of appearing to be the constant while Ministers resigned around her. However, it has become very clear indeed that Mrs May stopped is more concerned with how things look for her than what is in the best interests of the country. Nothing could make this clearer than that trantrum of a speech on Wednesday evening. 

And here’s the problem. How can Mrs May fail to know that she is the walking dead? Surely she cannot believe her time is not up. The Conservatives will not fight the General Election that will come if and when Britain finally leaves the EU with Mrs May in charge. She has nothing to lose. People with nothing to lose are frequently damaging to those around them. Politicians with nothing to lose often take others down with them. A Prime Minister with nothing to lose - you certainly don’t want one of them on the lose, no sir-ree.

Theresa May is now centrally concerned about her legacy, for what she will be remembered. She has divided the country, dissembled, repeatedly lied about her intentions and has proved incapable of the task. She casts herself as Margaret Thatcher but the comparison is absurd - like her or loathe her (and I’m firmly in the latter camp) she was definitely a leader. Theresa May is anything but. 

History will judge her harshly a public inquiry may well do so too.

Posted by John Howarth
An Industry Vision for a Renewed Europe

An Industry Vision for a Renewed Europe

Transformative technology, markets and society

Contribution to a debate of the European Forum for Manufacturing - 6 March 2019 

We are told, and it happens to be true, that we stand at a time of vast technological change that will transform human lives in a future beyond our imaginations. It is true because it has always been true - at any time in the past 300 years we could have said much the same thing with confidence. The industrial and technological revolutions have been a time of permanent and most frequently accelerating revolution. And while war has from time to time slowed down development it has also been the dark catalyst of technological progress.
The question is not whether humanity chooses digital transformation but how we can learn from previous transformations in the sure and certain knowledge that the likely pattern is one that we have seen before. It is just another change: every technological leap has produced vast swathes of wealth but with greatly unequal distribution and unequal markets prove unsustainable; every process automation has removed turgid tasks from the workplace but has also removed human skills from processes.
Technology always drives change faster than legislators and social policy makers can regulate the parameters and consequences. We know that the greatest innovations will drive markets in particular directions. The challenges are: how do we retain sustainability, how do we ensure that markets retain humanity, how do we ensure that people genuinely benefit from these great leaps forward.
Robotics and automation have overwhelmingly replaced tasks that required low to no skills but as robotic automation becomes more sophisticated tasks requiring greater dexterity have been replaced. Artificial intelligence, most fundamentally, introduces decision making to automation. Decision making applies certain criteria to processes - and they can be quite complex, considering intricate conditionalities and building in judgements that can be seen as protecting the individual consumer as well as the provider corporation. Experience of the pseudo-judicial functions of public administration would, however, suggest that some judgements and not best handled by binary systems because in the end they are not always binary.
So assuming we acknowledge as policy makers both the productive bonus of automation and its dystopian tendencies and how these deliver change in a market economy we can being to provide answers to the direction in which society needs to travel for the social element of our economy to deliver societies at ease with themselves.

The ability to engage in a digital world

The real danger is of a digital world in which substantial minorities within otherwise wealthy societies are excluded from the productive economy. This divide is not about class, background or income in the first instance but about the education and skills that enable individuals to engage. An economy that is fully able to take advantage of the wealth creating opportunities of the digital world will rely as never before on a technologically literate workforce. Likewise, our public sphere, depending as it does for its legitimacy on participation and democratic engagement, requires a broadly based, representative, digitally enabled population. Both require different thinking on the outputs of education. The nature of the evolving economy will require an education and skills system that thinks (metaphorically) in terms of maintenance as well as manufacture. We need no longer to think of re-skilling for transition on an industry-by-industry basis but in terms of constant and ongoing skills development across the workforce. This should become a central element in EU and Member State funding of programmes for ‘Just Transition’ during the 2021-27 MFF and beyond.

Algorithms are not neutral

Few, after the Cambridge Analytica affair would contend that an algorithm can never reflect bias. However the industry that produces algorithms - and therefore develops core aspects of artificial intelligence - leans heavily toward a particular type. The technologist caricatured in popular culture only chimes comedically because they are true to the experiences of the audience. The software engineering sector was white, male, middle class, college educated and overwhelmingly 25-40 years of age. This is less true than it once was, or at least the first of those, however the point is this. If algorithms reflect the societal biases of their authors then they will produce outcomes that reflect those biases. Data sets with inbuilt bias will also produce skewed outcomes. In the automation of HR/recruitment, student applications and insurance processing the implications are obvious, though even in mechanical automation there is early research to suggest that being treat equally by the machine cannot be taken for granted. Further research will be needed to determine if the early suggestion that a black woman is more likely to be involved in a collision with a driverless vehicle than a white man (according to a study by the Georgia Institute of Technology). These fears may prove to be false - but how will we know unless outcomes are critically examined and unless access to the data being used by automated processes is available to independent researchers?

Where the greatest gains will lie

The more productive wealth generation will take place in the areas of technology that make possible the things that before were impossible or limited by the physical and political world. They will create the next billionaires and produce the next social exclusions. It will happen because these areas are always the most difficult for legislators to keep up - and some may prove to be out of political reach. Blockchain technology is receiving all sorts of attention for exactly this reason. This is not to say that the automation of existing processes will not be productive, just not exponentially so.

What does this mean?

Digitisation is happening. It cannot, should not and will not be stopped or regulated out of existence because markets will find a way. Luddism doesn’t work - it will only increase the digital divide. Just as the challenge of China cannot be successfully addressed by protectionism but only by Europe becoming an effective inward investor and stakeholder in Chinese domestic, international and digital markets so digitisation will only become socially inclusive by social and public actors working with digital innovators.
The long term success of Europe’s digital/AI economy requires the broadest possible section of consumers who can afford to buy the products of that economy. It requires an economy producing products to meet the needs of a diverse society. It requires a digital economy not confined to a monoculture, even a monoculture of the majority but which enhances cultural diversity and harnesses that diversity to create better products for more sustainable markets.

John Howarth MEP
13.3.2019

Posted by John Howarth
Brexit Update: Bluff, Blame and Contingency

Brexit Update: Bluff, Blame and Contingency

I’ve been pointing out for months to anyone who asked or cared to listen, that it would not be until the European Parliaments first session in March (this coming week) that Theresa May would face the decisive votes on her unloved Brexit deal. And so it has turned out.

While I am writing this update different pundits espouse different views of the likely outcome in the House of Commons. Again, as I have said before, nobody truly knows how this will end and anyone who tells you they do is lying. Im certainly not going to make any predictions most of the time thats a very good way to look very silly very quickly and especially right now.

It is now nearly six weeks since essentially the same deal, consisting of a precise 500+ page Withdrawal Agreement governing the immediate matters of the UKs intended exit and a vague 20-odd page Political Declaration, was voted down at Westminster by a record 230 vote majority. In that time very little has happened to merit writing an update. Theresa May immediately said she would not play for time then proceeded to play for nothing else. When she said her cricket hero was Geoffrey Boycott she gave away more than she imagined simply occupying the crease will do and playing for yourself rather than the team is the style, survival is everything and dont think twice about running out your partner.

Bluff

Meanwhile the game of attempting to scare people at the prospect of a no dealexit has continued in the hope it will be more successful than it was in December or January. Of course the consequences of a no deal exit are entirely scary, as everyone from the National FarmersUnion through BMW to the NHS Confederation have pointed out. Or rather no dealwould be scary if it was anything other than a bluff its only purpose is to scare people into voting for any old bad deal. Those within the Conservative Party who have retained any sense of rationality understand all too well that a party which allowed a no deal exit to happen would almost certainly not be forgiven for doing so.

There also seems to have been some kind of realisation within the Labour leadership that to be seen to support Brexit in any form will cause significant and lasting damage to Labour’s support - not least because of the damage to jobs and livelihoods that any kind of Brexit will cause. The overwhelming evidence that the great majority of Labour supporters, including those in much quoted ‘Leave voting seats in the North’ would prefer the opportunity to think again has also hastened the shift toward through the logic of the policy agreed by last Autumn’s Party Conference.

Blame

So on both sides of the aisle of Westminster the knowledge that ‘no deal’ is a catastrophe and that any realisable deal either takes Britain off of the EU Customs Union and Single Market and inflicts economic damage or maintains a close relationship with both but relinquishes any say over either is now much more widely understood. Fundermentally, this is why there is no such thing as a good Brexit and why the preoccupation of Westminster politicians is in avoiding the blame. The Conservatives want to blame the EU - their default campaign manual position of the last 30 years, Labour wants to blame the Conservatives but the real problem of what sort of future the country faces still remains. The fact staring our politicians in the face is the best deal Britain could possibly have is the one it already has - the big influence of a big country, outside the Eurozone and the Schengen travel area, so with control of monetary and border policy yet with unlimited access to the single market, employment and civil rights protection and the big vote of a big country with big influence. The alternative, should 29th March turn sour, is the same status of Uzbeckistan.

Contingency

This week (11-14 March) the European Parliament will approve a raft of legislation that everyone hopes will never be used. Even though the threat of a ‘no deal’ exit is understood by many as a bluff, the EU nonetheless is preparing for the worst.

The dire consequences of ‘no deal’; planes unable to fly, trains unable to run, lorries stuck in service areas and students thrown out of courses to name but a few, would be consequences of the UK leaving with no deal and thus no transition period under existing EU law. To make sure life, trade, travel, fishing and funding can continue for 2019 at least the Parliament plenary will approve emergency laws that will roll out in the event of ‘no deal’. I was rapporteur on one such set of rules concerning transport to and in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Of course it is to be expected that extreme Brexiteers would use this reality to say, “you see, we told you none of these things would happen” and while some might say letting people see the consequences in their full awfulness would be ‘fair enough’, responsible politicians cannot take such an approach. In any case, the EU must act to minimise the impact on its own citizens and businesses. Nonetheless, the harsh reality of customs checks and the resulting delays at the Channel ports will still hit the UK hard. NHS hospitals in Kent are making provision for clinical staff to stay on site because of anticipate travel disruption.

Extension

The deadlock at Westminster has produced much talk of an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period and/or a delay in the UK’s exit. What happens and why depends on the outcome of the votes at Westminster.

Any extension is a matter for the Member States and unanimity is required. Were Mrs May’s deal to be approved at Westminster then an extension of up to three months would be granted without question to allow ‘technicalities’ to be smoothly dealt with. In no deal is approved, however, the EU27 might justifiably ask why and to what end? It cannot just be to ask the same questions. Here, once again, nobody really knows how this will end - though at least three months is likely to be granted as it is in the EU27’s interests even if the result is another cliff edge at the beginning of July.

Longer extensions produce all sorts of complications. While nobody in the EU27 particularly wants the UK to leave there are many who now believe the process continuing is corrosive for the EU and would wish to get the worst over with - that said the only party threatening to shoot itself in the head if it doesn’t get its own way is the UK Government.

To be continued ...

 

Posted by John Howarth
Pulse Trawling: Complete EU Waters Ban from Mid-2021

Pulse Trawling: Complete EU Waters Ban from Mid-2021

John Howarth, Labour MEP for South East England has welcomed the outcome of negotiations between the European parliament and the EU Council (the member states) which will see the practice known as ‘Pulse Fishing’ completely banned in EU waters from 30 June 2021.

‘Pulse Fishing’ as the name suggests, works by sending electricity through the water, killing the fish and most other marine wildlife in the area which is then trawled by factory-scale vessels. The technique is indiscriminate and banned in fishing grounds over much of the planet.

Welcoming the ban John Howarth MEP said,

“I’m delighted that the clear will of Parliament has been accepted in the negotiations with the Commission and the Council. A ban on pulse fishing has been hard fought for by environmental NGOs and artisanal fishermen and recreational Anglers. The practice is environmentally and commercially damaging but has been allowed to continue on spurious ‘experimental’ grounds and has had heavy investment from large scale fishing interests, particularly in the Netherlands.

“Money talks, so I was pessimistic at the prospect of the ban making it through negotiations, but the big majority we won in Parliament clearly counted. Overall it is a small step forward but it comprehensively demonstrates how the more powerful Parliament has made it possible to win changes against both the Commission and Commercial interests. Sadly, Britain will have no say and no influence but will still be affected by these decisions if we leave the EU with Theresa May’s awful deal.”

Fishermen in Kent had been part of the coalition of industry and non-governmental organisations. Whitstable Fishermen Association, Thanet Fishermen's Association and Queenborough Fishermen's Association all backed the campaign to ban Pulse Fishing as did the Angling Trust, WWF UK and many others.

John added, “The Angling Trust raised this issue with me in early meetings during my terms as MEP along with Sea Bass fishing quotas which I am also pleased to say we were also able to influence for the better. Informed science-based NGOs like WWF-UK and trade associations play an invaluable role in counterbalancing the major commercial interests who seek to influence MEPs”.

In his letter to stakeholder organisation John  set out the process for the decision as follows:

Last January the European Parliament voted to ban pulse fishing as part of a broad-ranging technical report on fishing gear and fishing methods. The new rules are there to protect fish stocks and small-scale fishing communities by banning a practice that is damaging to marine ecology. Following its approval in Parliament, the legislation then went to ‘trilogues’ - the inter-institutional negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council (made up of member states) and the Commission in order for there to be agreement amongst the institutions.

On 13 February the European trilogue agreed to a complete ban on pulse fishing in EU waters as part of the new technical regulations on the conservation of fishery resources and the protection of marine ecosystems. This is a win for the work of the Parliament and recognises the substantial majorities in the House in support of a complete ban.

The practice will be banned from July 2021 onwards, which is slow but member states may choose to implement the ban earlier if they wish. This time frame is slow but allows the part of the industry reliant on the practice to adjust. The Netherlands did manage to negotiate an allowance, so that 5% of its fleet may continue to use pulse fishing, for research and scientific purposes until July 2021 when the full ban will be implemented. This relatively small concession enabled the ban to be agreed.

Posted by John Howarth
Chope – a suitable case for reform

Chope – a suitable case for reform

John writes:

It seems that most people were as horrified as I was at the malign actions of Christopher Chope, the MP for Christchurch which is in Dorset, last Friday in blocking the Private Member’s Bill seeking to tighten the laws against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

I generally avoid the term ‘most people’ as there is an increasing tendency to assume without evidence that the view of ‘most people’ accords with one’s own However, this time I’m pretty sure of my ground. It isn’t often that the comments sections on the web, politicians of all stripes and Her Majesty’s Press are united in their disdain for a political act. It was hard to find a single comment in support of him in the natural homes of Tories of similar views on many other issues.

Only on Thursday, the Twitter account of Chope’s party leader, Prime Minister and former Minister for Women and Equalities, Theresa May, told us how her Government was committed to stamping out the practice, but on Friday Chope used an arcane Commons process to block the Bill’s progress. Famously Chope also used the same process to block Private Member’s legislation intended to criminalise ‘upskirting’ Although Chope contends that his regular Friday ego trip is nothing to do with the issues at hand, nor to do with politics as such but a general objection to the process of debate for Private Members’ Bills. Even if this were true there are many other ways of continuing to make his point. He could for example have raised a spurious point of order of the sort we all raise at one time or other stating how, though he found the whole process unsatisfactory in this case he would make an exception and not raise an objection. After all, Mr Chope has conveniently been absent silent or quite possibly both when his mates have been promoting Private Members’ Bills and has not been averse to using the procedure itself.

Given these facts it is hard not to conclude that Chope’s actions were, consciously or otherwise, a hateful act of misogyny. His party leader’s silence since has been deafening. As bad, if that’s possible, as the act itself, if how this looks for politics, public life in general and Parliament in particular. Here is a single MP - that is 0.15% of the House of Commons blocking a measure that I dare say would have the support of 80% of the population and even more MPs. Over recent weeks and months we have seen Parliamentary process used and abused to ensure that the will of Parliament cannot prevail against the Government or cannot find expression. We’ve seen the Prime Minister clearly seeking to frustrate and side step Parliament by blatantly running down the clock on Brexit and the instructions of the House to the Government to conduct meaningful votes, to return and present new plans and, twice, to rule out a ‘no deal’ exit entirely ignored.

Aside from the immediate issues at hand, none of this is good for public confidence, but it is also corrosive for Parliament itself. Over the years and under successive governments the UK Parliament became increasingly a rubber stamp for the Government’s will. To some extent, through reforms that removed from the Whips the power over Select Committee Chairs, the independent thinking of the current Speaker and long overdue changes to the House of Lords, Parliament has pushed back somewhat. However the UK backbench MP remains, essentially, voting fodder (by the absurdly outdated practice of walking through doors) without significant influence over legislation or events. Of course there are some individuals who carve out their own niche but the opportunities are limited. This is why Chope’s Friday ego trips are so corrosive. Whatever the political views of the voters they want representatives who turn up, represent people and try at least to make a difference. For these reasons it is time the House of Commons reformed its own processes to achieve three things: removing discredited and outdated procedures such as that abused by Chope, ensuring that all backbenchers have the ability to influence the Parliamentary process and ensuring that Parliament is able more effectively to hold the Government of the day to account.

Ah, I hear some of you saying, what business of an MEP is this? Well, I have criticisms of the institution in which I sit too - different, but just as important. For example at the Brussels plenary session at the end of January we witnessed the ludicrous spectacle of a vote on the issue of ‘transparency’ off the Parliament being held by secret ballot - as our clever little voting machines allow - at the request of the largest group, the centre-right European Peoples’ Party (EPP). For the record, I voted for the improved transparency proposals - though I obviously cannot prove it. The proposal was, however, passed - the numbers would suggest the EPP voted against though there were clearly some honourable exceptions. This kind of thing doesn’t make politics look good either.

Institutions should evolve with the times. The very idea that a Parliament should work by the rules decided 150 years ago just because it has always been that way is ridiculous. The point of the whole Brexit thing for some is that Parliament in the UK should be sovereign. Well it is. It always was. If the institution is to have the respect and democracy is to have popular confidence then Parliament needs to behave in a way that inspires confidence rather than acting like the relic of the public school tradition.

Posted by John Howarth
Paranoid Android – no iPhone App for EU Citizens in UK

Paranoid Android – no iPhone App for EU Citizens in UK

While huffing and puffing about deals and non deal continues and the government spends money on ludicrous ‘no deal’ preparations that ought to be entirely unnecessary, those most closely caught up in all of this, the 3.5 million or so EU citizens in the UK and the 1.5 million or so UK citizens in the EU, continue to be an afterthought four those in power.

The Home Office, an organisation that has done nothing to shed the ‘disfunctional’ tag that former Labour’s John Reid gave it in 2006, announced months ago that it would make the facility for EU citizens to apply for ‘settled status’ in the UK would be a convenient mobile phone App - a snip at £65 a head. In the event even this government eventually caved at the notion that people who have settled in the UK and paid tax sometimes for twenty years or more should have to pay to apply to continue living their lives here and scrapped the fee. The mobile app, however, is now available for phones running the Android operating system - and only Android. The Home Office advice to EU citizens is online here.

Now at first glance this might seem logical, three out of four phones worldwide run Android - so it is most important to make the App available on Android phones first? Well not really. In Europe Android has a lower share of the market but it is still the leader by some distance with 70%+. However in the UK, where the people who will actually use the App are, the market is different, with 48% of phones running Android while iPhones (iOS) account for 51%*.

However, either way the Home Office thinking is badly deficient. There is no good reason, technical or otherwise, why Apps could not have been made available simultaneously on both operating systems and on the gov.uk website. The only reason for doing it this way it to save a little bit of money, however, the additional cost of such development ought to be marginal.

Meanwhile little expense is spared organising fake traffic jams, putting out tenders for ferry contracts that don’t even require firms to own actual ships or ‘gaming’ plans to put the military on the streets or to scuttle the royals out of London should rioting break out.

It is really not good enough to treat people this way. I, along with other MEPs and MPs, signed a letter to Home Secretary Javid telling him that this is just shoddy. The Government needs to get its act together and start serving people rather than deepening the 'hostile environment' to serve the short-term interests of the Conservative Party. 

 

Posted by John Howarth