Brexit White Paper – does it meet our Red Lines?


06 February 2017

Last week the government released their White Paper on Bexit. Despite stretching to 77 pages, it gives little concrete detail on how the government will go about this most massive of constitutional changes.

But it does give some indication of what they think is important and not important in the negotiations. Of particular interest, it reaffirms the Government’s wish to leave the European single market altogether. 

In the Autumn, we released our ‘Brexit Red Lines’ – detailing what we think it would take to pursue a Brexit which worked for people and planet, rather than big business. So how does the White Paper measure up? In a nutshell, what we have to go on is not good news:

1) Free movement and migrant rights – Assessment: really bad

Free movement across Europe is ruled out by the White Paper, and it’s very clear that migration restrictions will be much tougher. There’s nothing in here about refugees at all (except the vaguest of references to ‘meeting international obligations’). There’s nothing about the EU’s awful EU-Turkey deal, but details emerging from today’s EU summit suggest May wants to follow exactly the same approach – pay poorer countries to meet our obligations that we have towards refugees. The only positive thing is that MPs will get a vote on the new migration system – so the tiniest ray of hope. 

2) Strong climate change targets – Assessment: neutral

The paper reaffirms current climate change commitments and talks in vague terms about ‘playing a leading role’. But nothing specific and it’s not a high priority for the paper.

3) No toxic trade deals – Assessment: really bad

The paper screams ‘we want loads of trade deals and don’t really care how we get them’, more than anything else. First it talks about the UK-EU deal. Rather than single market membership, the government wants to take a sector-by-sector approach, with a particular focus on finance. The paper more or less says ‘the City is so good for the EU, we can’t imagine you won’t want to keep it as the financial service capital of Europe’. There’s a very good chance that our use of the European Court of Justice (a proper court system open to ordinary people) to adjudicate on disputes, will be replaced by both some  variation on the infamous corporate court system from TTIP and CETA, alongside a state dispute mechanism. This is hardly a triumph for parliamentary democracy.  

Beyond the EU, the paper about ‘global Britain’ and talks about the Gulf, the US and China among other regions, and getting trade deals moving as soon as possible. We know that this will all be in secret – via a set of working groups being set up – as  that has already been announced in parliament. This is really scary and we need to keep a close watch on it.   

4) Protect Human Rights – Assessment: poor  

Nothing about the European Convention on Human Rights, and only one mention of human rights in the whole document.

5) Protect workers’ rights – Assessment: good start

To be fair, this has been made a central priority – at least for UK citizens. There’s little detail so we don’t know what it means. But it’s at least on the agenda in a prominent way.  

6) No to tax haven UK – Assessment: bad

Not mentioned in the paper, but comments by the prime minister and chancellor in recent weeks suggest that this is already being used as a threat.

7) Safe and sustainable food – Assessment: neutral  

It says a fair bit trade-wise – and we may stay within a EU wide standard setting body, while there are guaranteed subsidies (albeit along the current very unfair lines) until the next election. But beyond this, there’s no future vision and – like everything else – very little which is specific.

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