We Are Making A Difference

Politician with 38 Degrees petitionYesterday I received an email update from the UK Government petitions website stating:

You recently signed the petition “Hold a referendum on TTIP before we give away our sovereignty”: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/105856

On Thursday 10 December, the House of Commons debated the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

You can watch the debate here: http://goo.gl/gHjU6L

You can read the debate here: https://goo.gl/Q3YXez

Out of curiosity I clicked on the link to read the debate. After seeing 38 Degrees being name-checked by Mr. Peter Lilley MP (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con), I decided to find out how many times we were mentioned in the debate. I clicked on the Edit button at the top of my browser window and clicked “Find.” In the box provided at the bottom of my screen I typed “38 Degrees,” and found eight results.

It doesn’t matter which party our representatives are members of; those who tend towards a more classically liberal/anti-authoritarian view will tend to side with the people on the issues and though we are widely perceived to be a left-wing pressure group we can still influence those politicians with a right-wing bent. Let’s take a look at those parts of the TTIP debate to see how much of a difference we’re actually making and how, and how we can do even better than we’re doing right now.

“…to a groan from me…”

I am especially hostile to all those people who press the button on 38 Degrees campaigns that relate to anything against trade and business. I was rather surprised, therefore, to find myself sympathising with four people who appeared in my surgery and announced, to a groan from me, that they were members of 38 Degrees and had concerns about TTIP. They actually raised some very important points that resonated with me from my experience of past negotiations.

…My concern, and the concern of my constituents who declare themselves to be members of 38 Degrees, is that we may be creating a bureaucratic and legal process that may escape proper democratic control and may be subject to improper corporate influence. – Mr. Peter Lilley MP (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)

Mr. Lilley is Conservative and very pro-trade but when 38 Degrees members pointed out that the ISDS (Investor-state dispute settlement) provisions would create a bureaucratic and legal process outside of democratic control and subject to corporate influence he began to oppose it. Basically, they appealed to his dislike of unaccountable bureaucrats, the main argument raised by anti-EU conservatives, and that’s how they won him over.

“…we have received emails again…”

As I indicated earlier, the Leader of the House talked about scaremongering by the far left, and we have received emails again from 38 Degrees, which will no doubt be castigating me again on Facebook.

…a number of Opposition colleagues might be aware of the dissident Communist Rosa Luxemburg, if not necessarily of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and its deep links with Die Linke in Germany, the far left party that grew out of the old East German Communist party. There is a lot to be said against the old East German Communist party, but it was pretty good at propaganda and agitation. There are valid arguments to be made, but hon. Members must be clear about the driving force behind the campaign. – Mr. John Spellar MP (Warley) (Lab)

As an avid internet debater I’m concerned by the number of logical fallacies presented by Mr. Spellar, most notably composition/division and genetic. Basically, he’s trying to persuade his audience to dismiss our concerns using the Red Scare bogeyman to shoo them away. I’ll leave the political arguments out of this post (I’ll take them up on my own blog) but we need to be aware of that authoritarian technique used to shut down debate and be ready to call it out when you see it. It’s also worth noting that he’s tied his personal support for EU membership to his support for TTIP on the assumption that the EU is good and therefore what is good for the EU is good for the rest of us. If we’re going to have any influence on him at all, we will have to explain the harm that TTIP and CETA will do to EU members as well as Britain while providing rational neoliberal arguments against it, namely that it gives an advantage to foreign corporations over domestic small businesses, which is anti-ethical to a free market.

“I suspect that they were generated by 38 Degrees.”

Some of the emails that I received this week were fairly ill informed, to say the least. I suspect that they were generated by 38 Degrees. They were all the same, apart from the fact that the adjectives varied: the deal was variously described as dodgy, dangerous, evil and sinister. There could not be a more pathetic quality of debate. Let me say to those behind the emails, “For goodness sake, have the strength of your convictions: raise the quality of debate and argue rationally, rather being so immature.”Mr. Robert Jenrick MP (Newark) (Con)

Mr. Jenrick is remarkably unspecific about the things he claims we are ignorant about. Instead, he relies on the buzzwords “trade,” “growth,” and “jobs” without explaining exactly how TTIP will deliver these.  He then blithely waves away our concerns about ISDS by implicitly using the five words least likely to ever get me on board with it: “Trust me, I’m a lawyer.”

Tech journalist Glyn Moody has this to say about the “straightforward, comprehensive, honest answers” received by the Parliamentary Health Committee to the concerns they raised with the negotiators:

…it says: “we can state with confidence that any ISDS provision in TTIP could have no impact on the UK’s sovereign right to make changes to the NHS.” That is completely true, and completely misleading. The point is, government may be able to make any change that they want, but ISDS gives companies the power to sue them for those changes if they think it will harm their future profits. An obvious example is if a future Labour government decided to re-nationalise parts of the NHS that were privatised. That’s entirely possible, but ISDS in TTIP would allow US companies to sue for compensation for “indirect expropriation” of future profits.

The awards against governments can be huge. Recently, and ISDS award was made against Russia for $50 billion – that’s billion, not million. There is no upper limit, so there’s no reason that an even higher fine could be imposed. Inevitably, then, this has a chilling effect on government policy. Given this risk, they simply choose not to take risks. Again, we know that this has happened in Canada – see http://arstechnica.co.uk/tech-policy/2015/05/ttip-explained-the-secretive-us-eu-treaty-that-undermines-democracy/4/#h2

Basically, ISDS undermines democracy, and equivocations of the kind offered in that document don’t change that. – Glyn Moody, emailed to me 10/01/2016

Mr. Jenrick also cites his involvement in an ISDS case where he represented a UK company against an unnamed East European government:

I was a lawyer and the first case I worked on as a trainee solicitor many years ago was for a small British investor that had used a bilateral investment treaty very similar to this one to invest in eastern Europe. This perfectly legitimate UK company had seen its licence revoked illegitimately by that Government, and this small investor was able to use that treaty to get its money back and win justice. This is not about large corporations exploiting the system; it is about all investors around the world, including our own businesses being able to hold other Governments to account and ensure that they do not make arbitrary and poor decisions that negatively affect British companies.

He hasn’t provided any referents to use to search online so I’ve tagged him on Twitter and asked him what the case was so I can find out for myself what it’s about. I’ll update this post with his reply if I get one. I’d be very, very interested to know what this case was about. Mr. Jenrick then goes on to say:

We have twice been challenged and we have never lost a case under an ISDS.

Well that’s not true. Per Glyn Moody in an article in Ars Technica:

Unfortunately for the UK government—and for the argument that ISDS won’t have any negative consequences for EU citizens—the first half of that statement is no longer true.

It turns out that one of those two ISDS challenges has resulted in an award being made.

Per the War on Want article cited:

The Eurotunnel case is one of only two known instances in which the UK government has faced a claim under the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, which allows companies to sue governments before private arbitration tribunals for loss of profits.

The other known case involving the UK, which has been shrouded in even greater secrecy, was filed by Indian solicitor Ashok Sancheti under the UK-India bilateral investment treaty, and stems from a rent dispute over premises he had leased from the Corporation of London.

I’ve asked Mr. Jenrick about this too as it may not have come to his attention. The secrecy is the problem but Mr. Jenrick argues that the ubiquity of ISDS provisions in trade agreements means there is nothing to worry about. But he adds:

…the point of an ISDS is to underline the value of the total agreement and make sure no individual investor or business can be disadvantaged by another Government or union of Governments breaking the obligations they have entered into and negatively affecting our own businesses and investors, large and small.

Since the text of the agreement has not been subject to public scrutiny we’re not sure what those obligations are. I remember that in ACTA one of the bones of contention was “preventing infringement.” How in the world do you do that without putting everyone under surveillance? IPR (intellectual property rights) enforcement is a component of the agreements, remember. So if one of the IPR-reliant corporations decides that our government is breaking an obligation it has entered into by not doing enough to legislate surveillance or boot people off the internet on suspicion of infringement, etc., we all know what will happen and why. Again, litigation is expensive so the party with the largest war chest will ultimately win. He then goes on to defend the secrecy as a necessary part of the negotiation process while claiming it has been transparent. Finally, he claims that his constituents would benefit if “complex regulatory burdens” were removed. For a politician keen to run us down as ignorant and uninformed, he does a lovely job of being vague and uninformative (and uninformed!) himself. Personally, I think it’s worth pointing out the lies and half-truths in his statements in order to have an impact on his constituents, if not the man himself. In any case, by slagging us off he has done much to bring attention to us as a source of information as people looking to counter our arguments must first discover what they are.

“…I commend 38 Degrees for making [lobbying] a bit easier…”

Ordinary citizens who are aggrieved about the actions of the Government in their own country can try to rectify that through the democratic process, and I commend 38 Degrees for making that a bit easier for those who cannot afford their own lobby consultants.

…I fail to see why it is necessary to have a separate form of recourse for companies that want to sue sovereign democratic Parliaments and Governments, one that is not made available to citizens of the countries who have elected those Parliaments in the first place. – Mr. Peter Grant MP (Glenrothes) (SNP)

In this statement, Mr. Grant encapsulates what 38 Degrees stands for and what it actually does. He then absolutely nails the issue we have with ISDS. He also calls out the divisive tactic being used by pro and anti-EU factions to tie TTIP to deciding whether or not to remain in the EU. He seems a bit confused about what the problem with ISDS is with regard to the democratic process and the pro faction runs rings around him. The anti-TTIP/CETA faction then gets accused of being anti-American as well as anti-trade. They don’t seem to be able to engage with our arguments on the merits; instead, they’re resorting to the use of shaming tactics. I see this as proof that they’re on the back foot. We need to keep pointing out that we are all very much in favour of trade, particularly with the Americans, we just don’t want to subordinate our own democracies, business enterprises, and public services to foreign corporations in the name of a rigged “free market.”

“I do not hear much from 38 Degrees”

I do not hear much from 38 Degrees. The people of Brigg and Goole are too busy just getting on with their lives to waste their time forwarding me emails that are written by somebody else, telling me what their view is. I did have an interaction with someone in which I pointed out this view about anti-Americanism. There was then a trail of emails, in which I pointed out that we had all these ISDS agreements with 94 other countries, and that had only been used against us on two occasions, and never successfully. The trail ended with my constituent, who had assured me in his first email that he was not anti-American, saying, “Ah yes, but the other agreements have not had American lawyers involved.” Clearly, there is an element of anti-Americanism involved, and we should not pretend otherwise. – Mr. Andrew Percy MP (Brigg and Goole) (Con)

Mr. Percy’s decidedly authoritarian take on this is to dismiss 38 Degrees in the most patronising terms, then state that any criticism of American lawyers in ISDS cases is anti-American per se. He continues:

Again, a constituent contacted me with something from 38 Degrees. I was robust with him on this position on TTIP, as I have been since I came to this House in 2010. I explained that it is of benefit to small businesses. His response was, “Well, I run a small business, and I have tried to do trade in America, and it is really very, very hard.” That is exactly my point. Those are the people who will benefit most from this agreement.

He doesn’t say how. If regulatory burdens are at issue what are those burdens and how can they be overcome? What compliance is required and is it not spelt out when entering into a trading arrangement to export goods and services? He then goes on to quote the woefully ill-informed Mr. Jenrick and Jean-Luc Demarty, director-general for trade in the European Commission, who told him:

“…in the Commission’s view there is no need to take any further action to ensure this result, as public services are always protected in EU trade agreements.”

Well it appears to have slipped Mr. Demarty’s mind that ISDS in TTIP would allow US companies to sue for compensation for “indirect expropriation” of future profits. I’d like to see the wording in TTIP and CETA that specifically says that if a privately provided service is subsequently renationalised in the public interest we won’t get sued for it under ISDS.

Mr. Percy continues:

When people run around campaigning against TTIP and raising legitimate concerns—and there have been some legitimate concerns—about the process and ISDS, the one thing they must not do is frighten people and say that this is about American businesses coming in and destroying the NHS. The response from the EU—I never quote the EU because I do not like the EU, and I am campaigning for us to leave it—has been absolutely clear on this: the NHS is safe, whether or not there is TTIP. The only bodies that can cause any damage to our NHS, and challenge this in the way that those who oppose TTIP say, are national Governments. Governments are in a position to do the damage to the NHS, but in England, that is not happening because we have an excellent Government doing good things for the NHS.

This is disingenuous on so many levels but he’s right about one thing: governments are indeed in a position to do damage to the NHS. Creeping privatisation isn’t just about foreign corporations taking over healthcare provision in the UK, it’s about any private entity running essential healthcare services for profit to the detriment of the people. This is Red Scare by Proxy, a Strawman and Black or White logical fallacy, the idea that to challenge American corporatism is to hate our allies and thereby our country, an alleged left-wing position. He hasn’t stated what Mr. Demarty told him about “taking back in a service.” If we’re going to have any influence with Mr. Percy or his constituents we will have to point out the logical fallacies and outright disingenuousness in his arguments. His dishonesty with regard to our reservations over TTIP needs to be pointed out where they can see it and if he’s really not so keen on the EU why in the world is he taking what he’s told by the EU Commissioner for Trade without a hefty pinch of salt?

One MP was forthcoming when it comes to the specific benefits of TTIP.

“It is very nice to have £2 a week”

…the Office for Budget Responsibility, in its forecast of GDP out to 2020, has an uncertainty of 6% in GDP. That is £160 billion, so we lose the £7 billion of economic benefits in the rounding. I am not saying that there will not be some economic benefits, but we should consider how significant they are and weigh them against the disadvantages that other hon. Members have mentioned.

…I am resting my case on the analysis from the Minister’s Department. On the assumption that the Department has got this right, each person in this country would benefit to the tune of £110 a year, or about £2 a week. It is very nice to have £2 a week and I am sure that we would all rather have it than not, but if the price that has to be paid is a loss of working conditions, labour standards and potential improvements in the national minimum wage or national living wage, the benefits will not in practice accrue to ordinary people in this country. That is why people have doubts about this. – Ms. Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)

Needless to say, Messrs. Spellar and Jenrick are quick to challenge her. Mr. Spellar again ties TTIP to EU membership but Ms. Goodman calls his argument out for the red herring that it is. Mr. Jenrick then suggests that Ms. Goodman is asking us to withdraw from some or all of our bilateral trade agreements because of her concerns but she says:

Perhaps we should have more parliamentary scrutiny of what is going on under the arrangements we have; perhaps we are shedding a light on them; and perhaps we should be grateful for those constituents who have alerted us to the issue. I am grateful not because we have to accept every single message in its last detail, but because they have triggered my looking into this more deeply.

This is what the petitions are for. This is their power. People don’t always know how to word their concerns so they rely on us to provide the words for them. 38 Degrees also provides the means for members to start their own petitions and due to its decentralised distributed nature it’s not ideologically hidebound. This means that anyone can become a member of 38 Degrees, whatever their political affiliation is, and start a petition on any subject that appeals to them. Ms. Goodman understands this, it’s what she’s responding to in her comment above.

Let’s not forget CETA, the comprehensive economic and trade agreement. All this talk about TTIP has reminded a Welsh politician that it’s not the only secretly-negotiated trade agreement in progress at the moment.

“CETA is on the verge of being ratified but is not receiving the scrutiny or attention it deserves.”

I am grateful to groups such as Global Justice Now and the Council of Canadians as well as Unison for bringing to my attention CETA, the comprehensive economic and trade agreement between the EU and Canada, often referred to as TTIP’s little brother. Although there is much public awareness of the TTIP negotiations, CETA is on the verge of being ratified but is not receiving the scrutiny or attention it deserves. CETA includes the most controversial part of TTIP, investor state dispute settlement. Many US firms have Canadian subsidiaries, thereby allowing US firms to operate in the EU market. Public services are vulnerable because CETA locks in current levels of liberalisation, meaning that future Governments will find it extremely difficult to stop Canadian companies delivering public services in the EU. CETA is due to be fully ratified in mid-2016, and I urge the UK Government, the Welsh Government and the public to reject this deal unless the safeguards that I have outlined in relation to TTIP are put in place.

The public and politicians should also be aware of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is little known over here. Again, the criticisms of this proposed deal bear the hallmarks of TTIP and CETA—secrecy, and the fact that large corporations will exert undue influence over public policy through shadow legal systems. – Mr. Jonathan Edwards MP (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC)

Debating had begun at 12:06 that day but two hours later those MPs in attendance were starting to wake up. Concerns raised by the anti-TTIP faction were beginning to gain ground and other MPs were beginning to join them.

…negotiations on the agreement began in July 2013. During the subsequent two and a half years it has been extremely difficult for elected representatives at any tier of government to acquire clear information about it.

Worryingly, there are already examples of Government policy changes resulting in legal action from foreign investors, including in the health sector. We must do everything possible to oppose such a situation in the UK’s nations. I would add that the European Commission’s proposal to replace the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism with the investment court system is little more than a rebranding exercise that will not alleviate the concerns that have been raised. It is unclear to me why an entirely separate legal mechanism is required to “protect” investors from national Governments. Foreign investors should not have the privilege of a special court, and multinational corporations, like individuals, should continue to operate entirely within the existing legal framework.

For those reasons, the text of any TTIP agreement must be subject to parliamentary scrutiny before the UK votes on it at European level. – Mr. Ronnie Cowan MP (Inverclyde) (SNP)

It seems that as the anti faction’s arguments gained traction in the House, the Government and pro-TTIP faction began to slink away in spirit and in fact.

I marvel at the utter certainty of the many hon. Members who are not here. Before negotiations are even completed, they seem to know what is in the final settlement. I marvel, in particular, at the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), as we can see him fading away into the mists of the past— Mr. Roger Mullin MP (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

By the time the debate drew to a close, this was the general sentiment:

A trade agreement that brings economic benefits for our country is undoubtedly welcome, but putting ourselves at a disadvantage, undermining our public services and weakening consumer and workplace safeguards is not. We deserve to know what is going on, and we demand that the Government stop ducking and dodging and ensure that future negotiations with the EU and the US are done in the open so that everyone can make an informed judgment. – Mr. Daniel Zeichner MP (Cambridge) (Lab)

It was late in the day when someone finally addressed the elephant in the room: for an allegedly transparent agreement, information for public perusal has been mostly provided by campaigning organisations like ours. Even elected officials have had to rely on them for news of the agreement and its progress.

“…it is concerning that the public information campaign on TTIP has been left to …grassroots organisations”

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is concerning that the public information campaign on TTIP has been left to such grassroots organisations? They are going out and making the case to people on the streets on a voluntary basis, but there is no wider campaign. – Ms. Alison Thewliss MP (Glasgow Central) (SNP)

There was a little weak sauce back-and-forth from the pro-TTIP faction, most notably from The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Ms. Anna Soubry MP):

This is an important trade agreement and it is all about free trade. It will bring huge benefits to the economy of this country.

…TTIP is not a secret negotiation. It is there for everybody to read on the internet, and it is reaching the right conclusions. When it has concluded, it will be for this Chamber to ratify it. It will lie here for 21 days. At that point, any hon. Member could put before the House a motion to reject it. However, I hope that when that day comes Members will accept this agreement because it is about free trade and it is the right thing to do.

This apparently wasn’t enough to convince Mr. Geraint Davies MP (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op), who concluded:

“Nobody has made a compelling case for the inclusion of ISDS”

The problem that people have with TTIP is ISDS. Nobody has made a compelling case for the inclusion of ISDS. The wolf’s teeth should be drawn so that we can move forward to get the benefits of trade. In addition, we need to introduce enforceable and binding measures to protect our environment, our democracy, our labour standards, and our human rights.

The simple fact is that we want trade. Yes, we will have trade, but let us not trade our democracy, our liberty, our sovereignty, our public services and our environment into the pockets of multinational companies. Let us have trade, let us move forward, let us keep all that we have in Europe that we value, and let us have a global trading situation where everybody can benefit fairly and our environment is sustained.

A Parliamentary procedure followed, in which a question was put to the House and resolved upon:

That this House believes that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the Comprehensive European Trade Agreement, the Trade in Services Agreement and any associated investor-state dispute settlement provisions should be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny in the UK and European parliaments.

The “resolved” response means we got what we wanted: both TTIP and CETA have been brought to Parliamentary attention and our MPs are less likely to vote them through “because it is all about free trade,” as they might have done had we not started the petition and if all the participants hadn’t signed it. This is our power. This is your power. We are making a difference and every time you sign a petition, share a social media status update (e.g. a tweet) or blog post link that difference becomes more noticeable so keep on doing it because it works.

Pressure works, so let’s keep piling on the pressure and getting attention on those issues that matter the most to us in 2016. We’ve already got TTIP and CETA the attention they deserve. When they come up for ratification we have the opportunity to get them rejected in the UK Parliament as well as the EU Parliament. That would be a greater victory than the one against ACTA in July 2012 so as I said, we are making a difference.

Join 38 Degrees today if you’re not already a member so you can make a difference too.

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Comments (6)

  1. Rashid

    Reply

    What a blast! Fabulous article I’ve shared the link to the Local Groups team, I hope they enjoy the read as much as me.

  2. John

    Reply

    Wendy, this is an excellent piece of work, very informative, easy to read and a must for anyone wishing to get a potted understanding of the key issue around TTIP and more importantly, the one eyed view that some Con. M.P.’s have.

    I will put this link on my Facebook page and ask people to read it.

    Maybe at our next meeting we could discuss how we can counter the negative views being put forward by some M.P’s regarding 38Degrees. I agree wholeheartedly that their concerns about 38Degrees is a clear indication of their nervousness around our activity. Heaven forbid that the electorate should take interest in what our M.P’s are actually thinking!

  3. Pingback: 2:00PM Water Cooler 2/10/2016 – BitBrowse

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