The UK government is the real villain when it comes to terrible trade deals

The threat that TTIP poses should not be seen as unique to the EU, nor should the deal be used as ammunition against Britain’s membership of the Union


George Osborne was in Paris yesterday, making the case for a more ‘competitive’ EU as the Conservatives push for further economic liberalisation in Europe.

This is a timely reminder, as many progressives in Britain tussle over our place in Europe, that the EU is the sum of many parts – and if a majority of its parts, including the UK’s government, are pushing rightwards, it is no surprise to see the current direction of travel.

Campaigners for a so-called ‘lexit’ hold up TTIP – the US-EU trade deal currently being negotiated – as a sure sign that the EU is too tightly wedded to free market economics – and is forcing the UK into undemocratic treaties.

In making that case against the EU it’s all too easy to brush over the fact that our government is fiercely pro-TTIP and has negotiated equally damaging trade deals independently of the EU.

Just over a year ago, the UK parliament ratified the UK-Colombia Bilateral Investment Treaty, designed to cut down barriers to trade between the two countries.

A number of organisations, both in the UK and Colombia, raised serious concerns about the human rights implications of the deal in advance of its ratification, particularly because of the inclusion of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism which allows corporations to circumvent national courts and sue governments for damage to their profits.

There has already been a huge outcry over the inclusion of ISDS in TTIP – but many don’t realise that the mechanism is already in place in our deals with other nations.

The Colombian government is currently attempting the resettlement of 5.7 million victims of forced displacement, many of whom have now found corporations occupying their property. Under the UK-Colombia BIT, British companies using land in this way could sue the Colombian government for trying to return it to its citizens.

Furthermore, land redistribution is a key part of the peace process currently being negotiated between the Colombian government and the rebel group FARC; it is possible that the BIT will prove an obstacle to the necessary reforms, jeopardising the resolution of the world’s longest-standing civil war.

This year, the UK parliament is due to ratify another such treaty with Ethiopia, and similar concerns have been raised about its impact – in particular, of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism.

In the case of the Ethiopian deal the ISDS clause is less carefully worded and wider reaching than TTIP’s, extending the scope of circumstances under which corporations can take the government to court and giving even less regard to public interest.

There are currently hundreds of  ISDS tribunals being fought, and even when they are unsuccessful the cost for governments, often running into the tens of millions of dollars, is one many countries can ill-afford to bear.

These deals show so-called trade liberalisation at its worst, allowing corporations to ride roughshod over the democratic will of developing companies and forcing governments to favour big business over the public good.

And while TTIP is now the subject of immense public pressure and scrutiny, our government is signing exploitative bilateral deals with far less scrutiny and opposition.

The Europe-wide reaction to TTIP, like the self-organised European Citizens’ Initiative against TTIP, has shown the strength of feeling against TTIP and the potential for people across the continent to hold the EU to account.

The role that many MEPs, too, have played in securing greater scrutiny of the deal and delaying its passage through the European Parliament, illustrates that our parliamentarians in Europe often do work hard to represent those who elected them.

It is the unaccountable European Commission and Council that have been really pushing this deal – backed by the hoards of corporate lobbyists in Brussels – and it’s this democratic deficit that we need to be fighting to fix as members of the EU.

The threat that TTIP poses should not be seen as unique to the EU, nor should the deal be used as ammunition against Britain’s membership of the Union.

Instead, we should be opposing damaging trade deals here at home as vehemently as we oppose those negotiated in Europe, and we must push for an EU that defends the rights of people against the power of corporate interests.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion. Follow her on Twitter

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5 Responses to “The UK government is the real villain when it comes to terrible trade deals”

  1. Faerieson

    TTIP really is the real deal! Obviously, vested interests will be trying to misrepresent this sinister package, perhaps by ‘assuring’ us that the NHS will be exempted, and that there will be far more benefits than drawbacks.

    But, this is hardly an unfamiliar stance; the number of instances of worsening living standards for the majority, that had been sold to us as ‘in our better interests’ must number beyond belief! Even should pretended safeguards be put in place, time will surely demonstrate that superficial legislation is easily reversed, whereas a stealthily privatised NHS may well transpire to be lost for good.

  2. Anthony Sperryn

    I sometimes think that the Labour Party has a death-wish and doesn’t want to be in power again. It is too weak to win on its own, so it must combine with others.

    It needs to join up with the Greens/SNP/Plaid Cymru and formulate a proper anti-austerity, anti-free-market-fundamentalist (i.e. anti-neoliberal) set of policies. That is definitely not to say there is no place for private enterprise. There has also got to be lots of scope for ordinary people to build up a pot of capital for themselves. People need hope. But it will need very firm government to keep speculative bubbles under control and the country from being ripped off by international financial capital (including mult-national businesses).

    People need to be released from the trap, the slavery, of means-testing (by way of having the basic income the Greens suggest). They need to feel secure with a proper NHS and decent education for their children. They need more than mickey-mouse jobs; rather, jobs where people and their employers pull together and the rewards are fair.

    Jeremy Corbyn is showing the way towards people being liberated from Tory-lite nonsense. If he is too modest to undertake the role of leader for the long-term, then Caroline Lucas is a person of great talent and intelligence who would overshadow the other leadership contenders that Labour is proposing.

    Please get on with it. The country needs you all (LP/SNP/PC/G) to talk and combine so we can get rid of the Tories. They are a minority party, masters of the art of divide-and-rule. If you start talking and properly listen to what the voters want, you can get those who strayed to UKIP back in the fold and Britain can be great again.

  3. drabman

    I don’t know. I’m demoralised really. I suffer from bipolar disorder and living in a council property and just see the contempt of people like me and a strange kind of perverse envy being ramped up and up. Living in constant fear of the next welfare proposal or the next beggar-thy-neighbour policy about ramping up my rent or making my home a semi-temporary place to crash with so many people baying “why should you have that? I don’t?” “Get off your a**e”.”life isn’t fair – tough” and so on is wearing me out and getting me to the point where I just want to give up. Look at Lord Adonis paper to the Fabian Society yesterday i which he is trying to peddle the line about Labour needing to bash welfare “scroungers”.

    I was enthused by Corbyn at first – I even wrote a long impassioned piece on Labour List last week after having hidden away from politics for fear of hearing something that would send me into a panic for days. However the more I think about it the more I start to think that the rich and powerful will never let us change things no matter what.

    I can remember the seventies ( I was interested in politics from a very young age and as I say only stopped because it was demoralising me) but despite the industrial unrest it seems a haven where the general public was far less harsh, selfish and judgemental.

    I can’t help being reminded the words of Tony Benn, who used to give as the reason he made the radical move from being a right-wing Labour minister to a socialist as his shock at realising how powerless a minister was in the face of international high finance, the establishment and the elite civil service and that they would never allow the Labour government to fully implement a program for a more humane society – that they had tried and been thwarted time and time again. He described changing government as just a matter of changing the managers for the real power-brokers and that the only way to change society was as a result of a mass movement with Parliament as one arm of that movement.

    Personally I think he was right, but I can’t really see it. The worse the government gets the more spiteful people seem to become towards people like me which is not what I expected at all.

    I honestly feel like jumping off a bridge sometimes.

  4. Anthony Sperryn

    To: drabman. Don’t despair. I have also found life very difficult at times. I hope you have enough to eat and drink and a decent roof over your head. There are people out there who can help you in all sorts of ways. It’s just a matter of finding them.

    I can get pleasure in small things that don’t cost – a walk in the park, to observe the insects, the sunset on the clouds (as last night).

    People can be very full of their own self-importance but such-like, although they may have power, are not worthy of respect. Good luck to you!

  5. Verity

    Whilst I agree that we should be equally opposed to (distorting) trade deals in the UK as well as in Europe there is one significance difference between opposing a UK policy and opposing an EU one. At least the UK parliament offers some measure of (future and current) accountability. That cannot be said of the EU committees of the self serving and self-interested. The prospect of shifting the various and diverse interests of a further 28 national hangers-on on top of the domestic challenges is beyond the will and energy I have to devote to such action. Dealing with the UK parliament alone is hard enough. Ridding ourselves of the EU structures and replacing it with bilateral civil associations of European people offers some prospects for advancement. We do not need to the EU to promote acts by Europeans.

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