We had our stall out again this month, campaigning to alert people to the dangers of a post-Brexit trade deal with the US and enjoying the sounds of a steel band and a community choir.
I find it all too easy to get confused at the moment with so much stuff going on- and that’s not counting the domestic concerns like harvesting the apples or getting the paddy that was our lawn cut for the last time.
But perhaps that’s because a lot of these concerns are inter-related and one thing leads to another.
So when local GJN member Pia Feig, also a member of Keep our NHS Public, was putting together a public meeting with People’s Assembly’s “alternative Fringe” during the Conservative Party Conference she thought Global Justice might contribute. This led to Heidi Chow, being invited and speaking. Heidi was ideal as GJN’s senior campaigns manager and leading on the Pharmaceuticals campaign.
Her talk followed the news of Labour adopting a radical stance with respect to medicines and was entitled “Trading with Trump, what a trade deal will mean for the NHS and Trump”. It followed several activist NHS workers talking about their problems and campaigning where they work and developed people’s understanding of where things appear to be heading.
Heidi had already blogged on the threat to the NHS from American trade aspirations several months ago; she went further in Manchester, updating on the winds blowing to and fro with statements, push-back and denial (perhaps camouflaging under-the-table reformulation of ideas to be brought out later).
She pointed out the converging interests of a post-Brexit Brexiteer government eager to prove it can deliver a trade deal with the US and pressure on Trump to deliver “America First” trade deals as he comes up for reelection next year. Informal trade talks have been already going ahead and she believed it could be ready for signing as early as next July.
As trade deals normally take years one may feel this is likely to be a bit dynamic- simple horse-trading with quid pro quos rather than more careful considerations. The current loss of the Trade Bill with it’s pro-Trade Democracy amendments means the Government can strike and then bring a trade deal to Parliament for a take-it-or-leave-it decision as it has been accused of doing in respect to a “no deal Brexit”. This is in marked contrast to the existing EU system where the European Parliament is intimately involved in setting a mandate and continued scrutiny before voting. The Queen’s Speech contained nothing to dispel such fears.
A changed government (if Labour) might sink such schemes, but should a Tory Brexit happen, Heidi expected a UK-US trade deal very soon.
She pointed out that traditional trade deals’ concerns over tariffs have been replaced by more extensive coverage of topics like “Intellectual property”, environmental regulation and access to public services and giving rights to foreign investors.
She went on to speak of the “negative listing” approach by which everything was up for trade (some might say “grabs”) that wasn’t specifically excluded. In the case of services for the NHS this ranges from portering, cleaning, and maintenance to clinical and testing- perhaps difficult for inexperienced non-hospital experienced trade negotiators to consider without leaving mistakes and loopholes. (Even sophisticated and experienced US negotiators had made about 1000 mistakes on such an exercise!)
The threat of US medicine prices hitting the NHS was no surprise to those of us who have been engaged in the GJN pharmaceuticals campaign. She saw Trump’s blaming the NHS for high medicines’ prices in the US as ridiculous when NICE here is having to ration medicines because of prices. The US explicitly wants high American prices to apply in the UK, thereby threatening the NHS’s work.
Beyond these immediate and more widely known threats she moved on to spell out the implication of corporate courts ( generically know as “Investor State Dispute Settlement”- ISDS). Although the US, already bitten by their rejection in the TTIP scheme, is not pushing these, our government hasn’t excluded them. This is despite their opening the door for massive drains on public healthcare funds, should claims be tabled objecting to healthcare-motivated policy decisions.
But beyond these and more invisible is the threat posed by US corporate take-over of massive NHS data bases which could be transferred to the US and there mined to develop applications that can be sold back to the NHS providing it with diagnostics- not privatisation as usually understood, but nevertheless appropriation of NHS assets which will then be resold, ripping-off the NHS using its own resources; a more sophisticated 21st. century way corporate control can encroach on our NHS!
She said the US objected to any rules restricting cross-border data movement and wanted not only to take our data out of the UK, but then to keep their source code and algorithms.
When she had met Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary John Ashworth he hadn’t appreciate the probable implications of a trade deal with Trump- how much do most back-benchers unless we educate them?
Thanks are due to Heidi for an enlightening and inspiring talk- taking further even those who thought they were boned up on the subject. The only negative was that although those present were the sort of people who can be expected to go out and take the message to their communities and workplaces, we were a minute proportion of the Greater Manchester population who are at risk of these menaces.
The insidious influences of corporate lobbyists are constantly at work gently diffusing their world-view and norms into our society and decision makers’ thinking. To counter this we need to speak out now, whether it’s in relation to the NHS, other public services, the environment and dealing with the Climate Emergency, workers’ rights and conditions, food and chemical standards, animal rights or any one of any number of issues.
We need to speak loudly, clearly and repeatedly. Let’s do it!
We took the message out to the site of Peterloo to generate publicity pictures, generated interest from passers by and were noticed and photographed by tourists.
On 20th. June I arrived in London on an early morning coach and having time to spare before a meeting went along to Parliament where the Commons International Trade Committee was taking evidence. You can watch it (and me) on https://goo.gl/kQrBab.
There were two hearings on the impact of Brexit on “Trade with the Commonwealth: Developing Countries”; the first with Professor Tony Heron, Department of Politics, University of York , and Brendan Vickers, Head of Research and Policy for International Trade and Economic Development, International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development and a member of the Commonwealth Secretariat. The Prof. was difficult to follow, Vickers had experience in the Commonwealth, presented some reports his body had produced and spoke energetically, drawing distinctions between different Commonwealth countries as trading partners.
Not billed, but coming along to support the others was John Weekes, (Pic. Bennett Jones) is a member of the Institute of Economic Affairs and an architect of NAFTA which in the past he’s advocated the UK joining, along with TPP.
Second up was Alan Oxley, Australian former ambassador to GATT, Chair of the Free-Trade Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, and International Trade and Competition Unit Advisory Council. His activities in relation to deforestation and the Palm-Oil industries were criticised by the Global South environmental group REDD-Monitor in 2010 citing an open letter sent by eminent scientists worldwide, including Sir Ghillean Prance FRS. Emeritus Director of Kew Gardens.
Thirds was Sir Lockwood Smith, of the International Trade and Competition Unit Advisory Council, a former New Zealand Parliament Speaker, High Commissioner and Trade Minister has a great smile, seemingly all the time. (Pic. from Legatum Institute)
He’s a kindred spirit, advocate of Britain being free to join the Trans Pacific Partnership and promoted by Brexiteers: http://www.leavemeansleave.eu/media/sir-lockwood-smith-winner-yesterday-uk/
Lastly came Shanker Singham (Pic. from Twitter), a colleague of Alan Oxley and (at the time of the hearing) Director of the International Trade and Competition Unit and the IEA: “A hard-Brexit guru whose thinking has influenced senior cabinet ministers” who has since lost his job at Dept. of International Trade over a ““potential conflict of interest”. He had been advising on trade policy while working four days a week at the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank but this month took a part-time role advising the PR firm Grayling.” (Times; paywall). The extent of his work and his frequent privileged access as a “Hard Brexit svengali” has been catalogued by Open Democracy and his outlook can be see in https://reaction.life/brexit-golden-opportunity-reshape-way-world-trades/.
With such an interesting line-up their opinions, in as much as I could understand them, weren’t too difficult to guess. Sir Lockwood in particular rounding off his contribution with the confident assertion that the UK should clearly cut its ties with the EU.
The chair, Angus Brendan MacNeil (SNP for the Western Isles) showed that he had some awareness of Trade Justice concerns and the potential empowerment of women through trade, leading to Brendan Vickers and Tony Heron, talking about “Women’s empowerment”, though the magnitude of achievements they could point to seemed comparatively slight and fragile when compared to the vision of the Free Traders. (One might wonder if the few millions thrown into such projects through “Aid” are really mere sops.)
Challenging the Free Traders he asked where the wellspring for a trade agreement should be – perhaps Trade ministers meeting in an airport lounge? This was answered by Singham neatly hopping from the asserted necessity of executive government doing trade to the impossibility of a country negotiating with another parliament. He favoured the US system where parliament (through committees and “cleared advisors”) might play “an advisory role” with access to secret documents and industry and trade advice- not publicly available to every Tom, Dick or Harriet. MacNeil challenged again and Singham said Government should set the agenda with Parliament having an “up or down vote on the agreement”.
John Weekes’ shared Canadian experience where a government that had previously called an election to get a free trade deal through its parliament decided a policy of openness and candour (“without giving away secrets”) – resulting in more informed discussion and the trade minister saying that a well informed opposition was much easier to deal with than an uninformed one.
Oxley’s contribution seemed to reflect an assumption that business should be consulted, not civil society – although the public had to be told the purpose of discussions, ongoing consultation wasn’t espoused.
It was sad to see that some members of the committee were absent, not contributing or slipping out. The Committee has 11 members; not half attended. (This was particularly notable with Labour members, however Chris Leslie took an active part.) What sort of scrutiny and thinking does this reflect?
I wasn’t the only witness to proceedings. John Hillary (now Head of Trade Policy, Labour Party) and Manchester’s former trade doyen Gabriel Siles-Brügge, now moved to Warwick and “providing support and advice” to the Committee. Disagreeing about Brexit, they share misgivings about potential trade injustices.
I was left with several things to think about:
If paying peanuts leads to hiring monkeys, what sort of advice can you get if you invite “Free Trade” negotiators from “think tanks”?
Will the Committee hear the ideas of Trade Justice advocates or people engaged in shaping regulations to protect workers, industries, environment et al.? They heard Nick Dearden as an advocate of Trade Justice back in November (See https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/international-trade-committee/news-parliament-2017/trade-bill-evidence-17-19/), but what about actual negotiators?
Why weren’t members of the Committee there?
Do members of the Committee (or anyone else in Westminster beyond Carolyn Lucas) ever seriously ponder the desirability of (economic) “Growth” or even “Degrowth”?
Why weren’t more members of the public there?
Wouldn’t it improve our thinking, arguing and campaigning if we listened to and thought about what is actually said by people rather than depending on second hand images through NGO briefings and simplified stereotypes and slogans.
You can readily find such meetings on the Commons website and that day one was spoilt for choice, other hearings involving HS2, the state of Brexit negotiations, Northern Ireland agriculture, Benefit Sanctions, local authority support for Grenfell Tower residents, the proposed ASDA/Sainsbury’s merger and the work of the government’s equality office, to name but a few in the morning.
As long as you leave weapons, placards, tools, whistles and a few other things at home you can get in to walk the corridors of power for free with no more trouble than turning out your pockets and being frisked. They scan bags which you have to keep with you – though I don’t know if they would accept a suitcase. For more information see https://www.parliament.uk/visiting/visiting-and-tours/ukvisitors/committees/
Saturday 14th. April found us at Chorlton & Whalley Range Big Green Happening- this year moved to the Carlton Club in Whalley Ra. The sun shone and folk came along who were quite amenable to conversations and sympathetic to our campaigns.
Primarily we sought signed cards to MPs to support Caroline Lucas’ NC3 amendment to the Trade Bill (which will save dozens of specific campaigns tackling individual bilateral trade deals). This harvested 49 cards.
Brian Candeland, Green Party
Candidate for the Chorlton Park Ward
on Manchester City Council
realizes the link between trade and
As a follow-up we also asked people to sign War on Want’s trade card which asked MPs to take up the issue of trade democracy with the government. (This brought a further 32 cards.)
Liz Howard, Minnie Mouse and Manchester Friends of the Earth demand Trade Democracy!
Secondarily we promoted the GJN Pharma campaign gaining 17 cards.
Two people went out of their way to sign up for updates and contact from Global Justice Manchester and we gave away some briefings, posters, complementary back copies of 99 and badges.
Jess Mayo, emailing her MP.
We met a number of old campaigning friends, allies and acquaintances. These included Jess Mayo, Green Candidate for Manchester Gorton in the 2017 General Election. She objected to using a paper card but took action there and then. She emailed her MP, Kate Green to thank her for co-sponsoring the amendment saying “Credit where credit is due”.
We’ve ordered more materials for the May Day/ TUC 150th. Anniversary event at the Mechanics Institute in a fortnight’s time. But time is short and the issue is critical so we can’t be complacent. The government may feel the Syria crisis provides good opportunities to push through their Bill whilst the media and attention is focused on something more spectacular. The cards should be on MPs desks by the end of this week. Let’s get some more!
I wrote to my MP, Kate Green (Lab, Stretford & Urmston) expressing concern about the Trade Bill going through Parliament; namely the lack of accountability to Parliament in this Bill and any future trade deals following Brexit. So-called ‘Henry VIII’ powers would be used by government ministers to rush through trade agreements and alterations to EU laws without parliamentary debate and scrutiny.
Ms Green assured me that she herself was a sponsor of an amendment (NC3) aimed to ensure this did not happen.
She goes as far as to say that MPs should have access to the negotiating texts of international trade agreements as they are formulated. And that all documents relating to trade negotiations should be listed on the parliamentary website, as they are in other European parliaments.
I find this very encouraging, and am certain that my MP is strong advocate of the very position taken on these matters by GMTAN.
Afzal Khan (Labour, Gorton) however, despite having been lobbied in Parliament and given us a photos at the Trade Bill Takedown had to be chivied to reply to a request to co-sponsor the amendment.
“…This is something that we have been pressing on the Government since the bill received its second reading in parliament on the 9th of January.
I am pleased that New Clause 3 has been tabled now prior to Report Stage of the Bill and replicated many of the amendments that and my Labour colleagues tabled at the committee stage. If it is one of the amendments selected at Report Stage by the Speaker then I will be supporting it.
I was disappointed that the Government’s Trade Bill did not include such measures when it was introduced to the House of Commons, and that is why I opposed it at Second Reading. I was further disappointed that at Committee Stage the Government voted down Opposition amendments that would have precisely ensured proper oversight by Parliament. As a front bench spokesperson I am unable to sign Early Day Motions. However, I will continue to press for proper transparency and scrutiny of trade deals both in the Trade Bill and when the Government sets out its policy on future trade deals thereafter. …”
Stephen Pennells, GJ Manc.