New Year Message for 2018

New Year Message for 2018

New Year is a time that we try to look forward with hope.

My main hope is that we will see a greater level of honesty in our public debates and a degree of understanding that to fail to address glaring societal problems will only diminish the lives of the great majority of our people.

I hope that engagement with the challenge of how we again create a cohesive society in which every individual has real, rather than merely theoretical opportunities to fulfil their potential and provide a good life for their families, companions and communities is not too much to hope for from those in public life.

And at a time when many of our leaders are keen to talk of a ‘belief in Britain’ it is perhaps not too much to ask that they flesh out what they really mean and what a modern vision of Britain might involve.

In doing so I hope we can re-discover the tolerance, mutual respect and ‘live and let live’ philosophy and practice that I grew up believing was inherent to the values of British society. In other words a genuinely patriotic pride in the freedom of the individual within a society framed for the common good.

That is a vision that will always rise above enforced conformity and coercive patriotism against which the great generations of the 20th century fought and won through. Somewhere along the line much of that vision has been lost and the failure of political leaders to articulate its relevance to the modern world sits at the heart of the challenge we will face in the coming year.

Here’s hoping.   

John Howarth MEP

PS For more reflections and hopes for 2018 read on here

Posted by John Howarth
2018 – a year more predictable?

2018 – a year more predictable?

Few at the outset of 2017 would have predicted many of the things that came about.

Very few foresaw the outcome of public events in the UK or worldwide - or if they did they kept their foresight quiet. As we move into 2018 some commentators naively expect a year more predictable even though the events of the past five years should have taught us that the only certainty of this era is continued uncertainty. 

If I might be allowed one equally naive wish for 2018 it would be for a deal more honesty from our leaders in facing the historic challenges that the year ahead will present and a recognition from the commentariat of the honesty that there is already out there.

The first and largest challenge for Government and Parliament in the UK is and will remain resolving the situation between the UK and the European Union. The Government has adopted the approach that its job is to deliver the outcome of the 2016 Referendum. Having fought an election seeking a mandate for an extreme interpretation of that result and lost, how long will it take the Conservatives to recognise that they cannot unite the UK by following that rejected path? Nonetheless, in negotiating that outcome the Government's challenge is to demonstrate to the British people that it can deliver the promises made to the public during that campaign. The challenge for Parliament is to hold the Government to account on whether that mandate has, or can be delivered as promised. Should Parliament conclude that, despite the best efforts of the Government, the prospectus held out to voters in 2016 has not or can not be delivered then Parliament must determine what happens next. That this can now happen was the most important decision of 2017.

The challenge for the Conservative Party in Government is to prove that it is still capable of leadership. Opportunism and the seeking of personal advantage came to dominate even the most critical decisions for the nation. Leadership was nowhere to be seen, self-preservation became the only game in town. When Brexit unravels under the weight of its own contradictions, this will mean confronting reality with something more than wishful thinking and that recognising that expressions of optimism and faith do not take us anywhere in the real world. 

For the Opposition the challenge is different. Labour has failed to dislodge unpopular Conservative Governments at two general elections under quite different leaders. To do so Labour will need first to demonstrate that it’s rhetoric about being a government in waiting is real by effectively holding the present government to account, becoming an effective opposition in Parliament. Then Labour must provide a prospect of Government that can command a sufficiently broad coalition within society to deliver a viable electoral majority and the good will necessary to govern. Labour had that based on quite different visions in 1945 and in 1997 each delivering successful periods in office. The circumstances faced by Labour the next time it faces the electorate will be different again, but the same question will remain: how social justice can be married with individual aspiration to command an electoral majority and delivered for the benefit of the community as a whole.

If this all sounds like a wish to rediscover the politics of pragmatism then it probably is but it is also a desire to see Leaders put the national interest before their narrow perceptions of party advantage. I say narrow perceptions, because I’m convinced that those that genuinely act on what they really believe in 2018 will be respected for their actions and realise the reward for their party. The time for playing the game of tactical advantage has, for now at least, passed.

Beyond the admittedly fascinating business of UK politics, the future of Europe is being debated in a time of vast technological and social change. Whatever the outcome for Britain and the EU27 several truths will continue:

The EU can, must and will continue to change. While some of us might not like the forces that have produced the globalised world in which we live, they are real, they exist whatever options exist turning the clock back its not one of them. Authorities that can operate beyond the nation state are the only means of redressing the balance between otherwise unaccountable mega corporations in individual citizens. The EU is the only effective means Europeans have right now.

Europe’s nation states remain important to Europe’s people, their interests, ways of live and identities. The success of the EU will depend on the recognition and understanding of identity and diversity and the development of patriotism that is modern, diverse and an opportunity rather than a threat.

By default or by design the decisions and direction of the EU will continue profoundly to affect its European neighbours. Those who render themselves without influence can hardly complain that they are then ignored. Despite this, ‘the club of nation states’ that is the EU will be foolish if it cannot understand and find means of gaining common advantage from its inevitable geographical relationships.

For a politician unpredictable times make a fascinating job thrilling. The ‘ringside seat at the making of history’ is a great privilege and most of us do the little we can in good faith to influence events for the benefit of the communities and nations we represent. That we seek very different outcomes is undeniable but for the most part our differences of opinion are sincere and our passions genuine.

Posted by John Howarth
Sea Bass Angling Ban Knocked Back

Sea Bass Angling Ban Knocked Back

The European Fisheries Council (the fisheries ministers of the EU member states' governments) has knocked back a European Commission proposal to ban completely recreational sea bass fishing in 2018.

The proposal would have left the dwindling stocks of wild sea bass for exploitation by commercial interests albeit with reduced quotas. The idea was fought off after lobbying of member state governments. John Howarth MEP met the UK Angling Trust at Westminster and, along with Richard Corbett MEP, who serves on the European Parliament Fisheries Committee, wrote to UK Fisheries Minister, George Eustice MP, urging the UK Government to back a compromise proposal.

John said : "A complete ban on recreational catch would only be acceptable were a total ban imposed on commercial fishing for wild sea bass. It is ironic indeed that the Commission should propose such a ban when recreational angling voices have long argued for strict measures to enable wild sea bass stocks to recover. In the meantime this is a sensible compromise for 2018, I'm pleased George Eustice supported the case."

The vast majority of sea bass on sale over the counter in the UK is farmed. The proposal adopted by the Fisheries Council restricts both recreational and commercial bass fishing in a more balanced way. Sea Anglers will be restricted to ‘catch and release’ and a ‘one fish per day’ while commercial fishers will have smaller quotas. However much more decisive action will be required if bass is not to effectively disappear from the waters off the UK. Sea Bass is an important fish to recreational anglers who contribute to the economies of coastal towns all over the UK, in particular South East England, in boat hire, hotels, equipment stores, restaurants and so on amounting to £3 billion annually.

Posted by John Howarth
‘Sufficient progress’ –  Mrs May has accepted the UK is staying in the Single Market

‘Sufficient progress’ – Mrs May has accepted the UK is staying in the Single Market

In October, when the European Parliament was asked if the negotiations between the UK and the 27 other EU Member States (the EU27) had made ‘sufficient progress’ to move on to the next stage, the answer was a self-evident ‘no’.

There was no agreement between the two parties and progress was clearly very limited. All that really existed was a statement of intent made by the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, on her ludicrous jaunt to Florence. At that time, reading her words closely, she effectively committed to much of what was in the agreement concluded in Brussels during the early hours of Friday 8 December. Progress then became bogged down in the muddy attritional battlefield that is the Conservative Cabinet. Her position was undermined by self-serving senior colleagues and the train wreck that was Conservative Conference.

The October vote was a statement of fact - there was no progress, never mind sufficient. Most Conservative MEPs weren’t even in Strasbourg to vote, though that didn’t stop Theresa May blaming Labour MEPs for her own inability to deliver.

Failing to take charge of negotiations herself, as four of her five predecessors almost certainly would have and even David Cameron probably would have (1), David Davis was left to muddle along, as ever hopelessly out of his depth, until the drama became a crisis. Eventually, as was always likely to be the case, a deadline forced agreement. Not the deadline imposed by Michelle Barnier, but the more pressing deadline facing many companies whose planning horizons for 2019 are defined by the year end of 2017. To have gone into January without a deal would have provoked a catastrophic reaction from the commercial world - under that threat the Prime Minister had no option to agree to the terms offered by the EU27.

If one is to judge an outcome by the reactions of others, then the tantrums of UKIP are a reasonable barometer. Little Mr Farage was of no doubt that the Prime Minister had conceded entirely to the EU27. He tossed round words like “betrayal”, “sell out” and “appeasement” while claiming that the agreement amounted to ‘a single market of some kind’, that ‘Britain wasn’t really leaving’ and that ‘leave voters were not getting what they voted for’ or words to that effect.It is worth noting in all this that several events predicted by the Brexiteers have not come to pass.

  • The unity of the EU27 did not crumble. If the few Conservative MEPs still in touch with Planet Reality were listened to in Downing Street she would have known it was never going to happen.
  • Angela Merkel did not ride to the rescue. Not only did the Conservatives and a cross section of the Brexit Press seem to believe this idea, but again fail to understand the commitment to the European Union is stronger in Germany than just about anywhere else.
  • German manufacturing did not dictate a settlement - for the simple reason that the EU27 market is worth a great deal more than the UK market.
  • The UK Government was never in a position to “just walk away”. Wiser heads prevailed and convinced Mrs May that ignoring treaty obligations and not settling debts is a very good way indeed to end up with no allies. The money proved to be just that - only money.
  • Most fundamentally, they DON'T ‘need us more than we need them’ - Brexit is justifiably the UK’s priority but it is not the priority for anyone else.

The agreement itself leaves much to be desired. While it is true that some important matters have been resolved on citizen’s rights there is much work yet to be done and there is nothing to prevent further progress. What is noticeable is the relatively poor terms secured for UK citizens living in the EU compared to those offered for EU Citizens in the UK. The latter retain their freedom of movement rights while UK citizens in the EU27 will be unable to move without restriction from a job in one Member State to another. It amazes me that the UK Government has been so bad at protecting the interests of a million of its nationals. In other areas the view of the European Parliament that Labour MEPs were able to influence, helped secure rights for children yet to be born and the guarantee of lifetime rights to EU Citizens ought to protect against either party reneging.

The massive contradictions of arrangements for the Irish border can only be resolved one way - continuing in the Single Market and Customs Union for the whole of the UK - or some bespoke, largely semantic arrangement cooked up by the parties to sound as if it isn’t the Single Market when everybody knows that, in fact, it is. Nothing else can deliver the outcome to which the UK has agreed.
But, nonetheless, there was an agreement, and it fell to the Parliament to recognise that ‘sufficient progress’ has been made to move on to wider talks on future relationships, so I and my Labour colleagues voted, once again, to recognise the facts. It would have been perverse to do anything else but it is certainly not the end of the matter - just the end of the beginning. It is also an essential step for the country as it reduces the chances of a ‘cliff edge’ no deal Brexit - the worst catastrophe of all and the reason why Mr Farage and his chums, who think ‘no deal’ is the only way out, are so unhappy. Their narrative requires the social dislocation and economic catastrophe that crashing out would bring. Far from owning responsibility, they would scapegoat anyone but themselves. When Brexit, should it happen, fails to deliver what those who voted ‘leave’ in good faith were promised UKIP and their chums will find scapegoats. It’s what they do on the extreme right.

This European Parliament vote was never a means of stopping Brexit - had I thought so I would have voted differently. That power now lies most clearly with the House of Commons which later in the day took onto itself the means of rescuing the UK from calamity by giving itself a vote on the final deal. Brexit can be stopped and the Brexiteers know it - which is why they are in such a panic.

Posted by John Howarth

European Parliament leads calls to tackle tax dodging by multinationals and the super-rich

The European Parliament has been at the forefront of investigating tax scandals such as Lux Leaks and the Panama/Paradise Papers. It has set up special and inquiry committees to shed light on the on the dubious practices which help the super-rich and multinational companies to dodge their fair share of taxes.

Tax avoidance schemes diminish the funding of important services, the NHS and new infrastructure. The damage does not end there. Small and medium sized companies are at a competitive disadvantage just because they pay their taxes, while mega-corporations receive tax sweet heart deals for the authorities and can use elaborate schemes to avoid tax. All we are asking for is a playing field where everyone pays their fair share.

The European Commission, under pressure from Labour MEPs and their Socialist & Democrats colleagues from around Europe in the Parliament, has already brought forward important proposals that could make a huge difference. Unfortunately some member states in the Council, among them the UK’s Conservative Government, are trying to slow or water them down.


Panama Papers | Our Story

After 18 months of investigations, hear our story on the #PanamaPapers 🔻 And if you want to read more about it, check out our blog:

Posted by Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament on Tuesday, 12 December 2017


Last week EU Finance Minister’s finally agreed the EU’s blacklist of tax havens. This is an important step but meaningless if not accompanied by strong and deterrent sanctions. The Socialist and Democrat Group in the Parliament’s argued strongly and voted for sanctions and that Ministers in the Member States should enact them.

Tax avoidance is a global phenomenon and though it is impossible for one country to tackle it alone, there are still measures the UK could implement to make a difference; unfortunately the Conservatives in government are refusing to do so. Tax dodging thrives in the cracks between the laws different countries. When countries don’t cooperate individuals and corporations exploit legal loopholes.
Whatever the UK’s future relationship might be, the European Union will continue to lead the fight against tax avoidance - simply because it is the only thing big enough to do so. The UK should be part of that fight to deliver a tax system in which everyone can have trust. Unfortunately there is a danger that the UK itself tries to survive outside the EU by itself becoming a psudo-offshore economy where corporations are attracted by tax breaks and the super-rich can shelter from paying their fair share. That would be a poor basis for any productive relationship with the EU.

The report, I voted for today reiterates the European Parliament’s commitment on fair and just taxation. The Council, and especially the UK government, should follow suit.

Posted by John Howarth
Threat to Horse Racing After Brexit

Threat to Horse Racing After Brexit

John Howarth, Labour MEP for South East England, met with the British Horse Racing Authority at trainer Stan Moore’s Yard at Lambourn on Tuesday (Nov 21 2017) to discuss the free movement of thoroughbred horses between the UK, Ireland and France after Brexit.
The free movement of racehorses between the UK, Ireland and France has been governed by the Tripartite Agreement between the national Horse Racing authorities but is subject to EU law and due to end when Britain leaves the European Union.
If no arrangements are agreed for racehorses, these movements will in future require veterinary health checks and temporary-admission documentation. Race horses, regarded as ‘highly healthy animals’ are exempt from routinely applied checks  These checks are likely to affect the health and welfare of the horse, and will impose additional costs on the horse trainers. This will, in turn, place the whole industry under threat.
John Howarth MEP said, “Maintaining the Tripartite Agreement is essential. Without a special agreement for the horseracing and bloodstock industry Brexit represents a major problem. The Government gave no thought clearly to the minutiae of Brexit, including what will happen to horse racing. In this area as many others a hard Brexit would be disastrous for the the economy in the South East. I will be liaising with my French and Irish contacts in the Parliament to develop an alliance to protect the best interests of horse racing. Nobody voted for a Brexit that damages the much loved pursuits that are part of our national life.”

Annually, over 10,000 racehorses move between England and Ireland alone.
Horseracing is big business for Newbury. Recent figures show that over 3,700 racehorses can be found in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Horseracing and associated industries are a huge contributor to the local economy, providing over 1,370 full time jobs, and a home for 10% of Britain’s racehorse trainers. The industry are also concerned about the availability of yard staff and riders if freedom of movement is ended.

Posted by John Howarth
John visits Culham and calls for assurances over future of fusion research

John visits Culham and calls for assurances over future of fusion research

John Howarth MEP has urged the Conservative Government to provide assurances to protect the future of the JET project at Culham Nuclear Fusion Energy.

The JET (Joint European Torus) project is the world leading experiment in Fusion Energy, which promises abundant clean, safe energy in the future. The Oxfordshire project involves scientists from all over Europe and is conducted under, EURATOM - the European Union Treaty on the operation of nuclear technologies which Theresa May has committed the UK to leaving.   

John visited Culham Nuclear Fusion Energy on Monday (20 Nov 2017) to discuss the impact of Brexit and inspected the world’s largest and most powerful tokamak and the highlight of European fusion research programme.

The work conducted at the Culham JET tokamak takes the scientific community toward practical energy supply from nuclear fusion by proving the essential technologies and also contributes towards lowering the costs of construction of the International Experimental Thermonuclear Reactor, based in the South of France.

John Howarth MEP said: “Britain is a trailblazer in nuclear fusion technology, and it’s essential to both the UK and the rest of the EU that we keep the UK as part of the EURATOM community after Brexit.

“Nuclear Fusion research is too big a commitment for any one country alone. Decades of work cannot go down the pan based on the Conservative Government’s inability to get their act together and negotiate.

“The reckless commitment to leave EURATOM simply has to be reversed at least to provide an association agreement that will enable scientists to continue this vit”work. Severing our links with the EU’s scientific communities is a lose-lose situation for the UK and the other 27 countries of the EU.’

Posted by John Howarth
Letter calling on governments to act on tax havens

Letter calling on governments to act on tax havens

Below is the text of a letter sent to The Guardian that I was happy to sign, with MEP and MP colleagues, calling on governments to take action against tax havens:

Dear Sirs,

We, the undersigned parliamentarians, are deeply concerned by recent revelations from the 'Paradise Papers' investigation.

We regret that some governments, not least the British government, have failed to learn the lessons from the previous 'LuxLeaks' and 'Panama Papers' scandals. In particular, we are concerned that insufficient progress has been made to ensure that investment vehicles like trusts are sufficiently transparent. We are also concerned that tax havens, like those involved in the Paradise Papers, have been able to continue with highly opaque company and trust registration models. It has also been disappointing to see some countries try to block measures against tax havens like the EU's blacklist of tax havens.

We call together for all governments to place renewed emphasis on tax transparency and fully implement Public Country-by-Country Reporting. In particular, we call for information on trusts to be made publicly available, and for all tax havens to be forced to automatically share information with international tax authorities. We also call for stronger regulation of intermediaries, including penalties for those proven to be involved in tax evasion, aggressive tax avoidance or money laundering.

Failure to act against aggressive tax avoidance and evasion is depriving public services of desperately-needed funding. It also enables some multinational companies to unfairly undercut many small and medium-sized businesses. The Paradise Papers must act as a wake-up call to deal with industrial-scale tax dodging, once and for all.

Anneliese Dodds MP, United Kingdom
Paul Tang MEP, Netherlands
Evelyn Regner MEP, Austria
Jeppe Kofod MEP, Denmark
John Howarth MEP, United Kingdom
Segio Cofferati MEP, Italy
Hugues Bayet MEP, Belgium
Pervenche Berès MEP, France
Ana Gomes MEP, Portugal
Neena Gill MEP, United Kingdom
Jakob von Weizsäcker MEP, Germany
Udo Bullmann MEP, Germany
Roberto Gualtieri MEP, Italy
Peter Simon MEP, Germany
Dietmar Köster MEP, Germany
Virginie Rozière MEP, France
Ramón Jáuregui Atondo MEP, Spain
Nessa Childers MEP, Ireland
Péter Niedermüller MEP, Hungary
Elly Schlein MEP, Italy

I have also co-signed a similar letter drawn up by former the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Posted by John Howarth

The future of fusion research

In a speech tonight to the European Parliament Plenary session I argued that Britain must remain in Euratom and within the European research framework for fusion power. I told the Session:

“Nuclear fusion is the holy grail of energy research, with the potential to deliver energy equivalent of 10,000 tons of coal from the atoms in this small bottle of water and no CO2 emissions.

“Commercial fusion now has a realistic future but that future is at risk because of Brexit.“The UK Atomic Energy Authority operates the world’s largest magnetic fusion experiment, the Joint European Torus or JET, with scientists from all over Europe.

“This project is far too big for any one nation state alone. It is the classic example of the economies of scale we achieve through our European Union.

“This world-leading research facility is in my constituency and you simply can’t put it on a truck.

“I hope that Monsieur Barnier and Mrs May are both listening: JET needs Europe, Europe needs JET and the UK’s place is in Euratom.”.

Posted by John Howarth
Academic freedom is worth fighting for

Academic freedom is worth fighting for

Last week I met with Student Officers and staff of Kent Union and students from the University of Kent (above) to listen to their concerns about the threat Brexit presents to UK Universities.

The University of Kent brands itself as the UK’s ‘European University’, with postgraduate centres in four European capital cities. Important aims of my work as an MEP is to protect funding and recruitment for UK Universities post-Brexit, to ensure that UK Students can continue to participate within the Erasmus scheme after Brexit and are not restricted from studying within European universities.
Many students are deeply concerned that they will have limited access to pursue academic study across Europe post-Brexit, if the Erasmus scheme is no longer available to them. Currently, the University of Kent exchanges some 300 students a year with over 100 European partner institutions. This is reciprocated across all universities within the South East: we must ensure that this opportunity is still available after 2019 and demonstrate that we listen and respect the voice of young people, the vast majority of whom did not vote for Brexit.

Protecting the rights of EU Citizens is crucial and is especially important to UK universities for their staff and student recruitment. For example, almost a quarter (23%) of the University of Kent’s academic staff are from the EU. Similarly, 41% of its international students are from the EU. Many EU students studying here are worried that their status will drastically change, and consequently affect their career opportunities, if no deal is reached on Citizens Rights. This is also a concern shared by academic staff, who fear that recruitment problems will lead to a dip in the quality of research and the variety of courses on offer.

Students also raise concerns over how easy it would be to travel across European borders, a right that has made scientific collaboration easier and which leads to better scientific research outcomes. Going back to a situation where samples were destroyed at the border would have no benefits for anyone.

The South East contains some of the world’s best research-led universities, who collaborate within research partnerships across the EU. The majority of funding is secured via the EU’s Horizon 2020 scheme and allows UK universities to work with their European partners across a diverse range of fields, particularly within scientific and medical research. In August I met with the Vice-Chancellor of Reading University, who raised concerns that the current research partnerships under Horizon 2020, must be allowed to continue post 2019 because the ability of UK universities in general, to continue to deliver world class research, will be greatly hampered if they are unable to secure critical funding made possible by Horizon 2020. I also met with Professor Buchanan and his Brexit Strategy team at the University of Oxford who told me of their serious concerns for the whole sector and in particular the consequences for medical research and the whole of the NHS.
I will continue to pursue these issues and to campaign to protect UK universities from a disastrous Brexit outcome. The South East contains the world’s leading university and a host of institution that lead and innovate in specialist fields. They are without exception strengthened through collaboration with their European partners. Tragically, some are already finding that UK institutions are no longer regarded as reliable partners for future collaborative projects dependent on EU funding. This could be the start of a viscous downward cycle toward a loss of talent and creativity from the economy and the diminution of opportunities for our young people.

The UK Tories will not act to protect young people’s interests after Brexit and care little about academic institutions. After all, few young people voted to leave, even fewer vote Conservative and those who have attended a university appear increasingly unlikely to do so. Their hard-liners show every desired to intimidate academics over Brexit and to control what can be studied through implied threats to future funding. Protecting the future of academic freedom and the freedom of academics to move freely within Europe is something, like much else, that cannot any longer be taken for granted.

Posted by John Howarth