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Wilf Stevenson on a government trade strategy that is high on rhetoric and low in detail 

Japan’s decision not to rollover its EU Free Trade Agreement with the UK was driven initially by a combination of ambition and great uncertainty about the future relations between London and Brussels. Over time, however, pressure from Japanese businesses has seen 'continuity' take priority – not least to ensure the smoothest possible transition into 2021 with the country’s main European hub. 

So, in October, the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) was signed. International Trade Secretary Liz Truss called it “ground-breaking” and the start of a new era of free trade. But beyond that bluster, and the echoing of the Prime Minister’s approach to UK trade, it is hard to see the agreement in anything more than rollover terms. 

CEPA is also tilted in Japan’s favour, with the final impact assessment revealing that 83% of the projected £15.66bn in increased trade will go to Japanese exporters – almost five times the share going to UK exporters.

So, what are the benefits? The UK Trade Policy Observatory believes there are some "finely narrowed-down improvements in rules", including e-commerce, rules of origin, and financial services. And it also highlights the UK’s immediate reductions of tariffs on some car and rail manufacturing products – including a 5% reduction of the threshold of automotive components down to 50%.

Any further gains are difficult to gauge. The EU has 25 separate tariff-rate quotas with Japan on agricultural goods, of which the UK has managed to secure partial access to ten. And while much has been made of the UK getting eleven tariff concessions, these are in categories that our exporters sold no goods to Japan in 2019, for example dried eggs and ostrich leather.

Employment provisions have not advanced from the EU deal either, and these remain weak and unenforceable. Yes, there’s still a commitment to International Labour Organisation rights but it only allows violations to be tackled through discussion and the establishment of advisory panels. Trade unions were not allowed to provide any input during the negotiations. 

On state aid, meanwhile, the government told the EU in negotiations that the maximum rules it will accept is the same as the EU’s FTA with Canada. But it has simultaneously accepted rules in the UK-Japan deal that go further.There are also no direct clauses relating to Investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS). Just a commitment to revisit the issue if the UK agrees future deals that contain ISDS, such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Given we are the second-largest foreign direct investment destination for Japan, it is notable that this is largely untouched in the agreement – bar references to ‘liberalisation’.  

The government has promised to sign new free trade agreements with countries that cover 80% of the UK trade by 2022. To do that, ministers must learn from the unevenness of this agreement and the inconsistencies in their position over state aid. If ambitious rhetoric isn’t matched by finer detail, UK businesses and workers will suffer from the negotiating away of standards, protections, and rights. 

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara is Shadow International Development Minister in the House of Lords. He tweets @WilfStevenson

Published 26th November 2020

Blustering on

Wilf Stevenson on a government trade strategy that is high on rhetoric and low in detail 

Rita Donaghy on making misogyny a hate crime

Monday sees the start of White Ribbon Week – an opportunity to highlight the ongoing global campaign to end the harassment of, and violence against women and girls. And I will be using my oral question in the House of Lords to press the government to accept a now two-year-old Law Commission report that recommends making misogyny a hate crime.

Seven police forces have already accepted that misogyny is a hate crime, and the statistics are worryingly high. In just three years, Avon and Somerset police reported over 800 gender hate crimes – with just under 90% against women. These included various forms of violence, as well as Public Order Offences such as threatening or abusive behaviour, arson, and criminal damage. This is not about wolf-whistling. 

According to the White Ribbon campaign, one in five British men think feminism has gone “too far” – but misogyny can also be a gateway to wider divisions in society. A Hope not Hate report shows that some young men who interact online with Men’s’ Rights activists can find themselves on the first step to more extreme racist or far right groups and start to regard more rights for anyone – people of colour, people with disabilities, the LGBT community – as a threat to their own status.

Such groups objectify and dehumanise women and girls. They radicalise young men who go on to commit acts of aggression designed to intimidate, humiliate, and control women.  Laura Bates, in her book Men Who Hate Women, refers to the vast and growing online networks of ‘alt right’ extremists, ‘incels’, and ‘pick up artists’ whose profoundly misogynistic and racist beliefs are having a substantially negative impact on women’s real life experiences.

According to the Home Office, the number of hate crimes reported to police in England and Wales has more than doubled since 2013, with a total of 103,379 in 2018-19. The majority were racial and some of the increase can be explained by improvements in crime recording. But other trends are emerging and during the pre-summer lockdown in response to Covid, incidents of violence and abuse of women soared – both in the home and in the streets.

Professor Penney Lewis, the criminal law Commissioner, has said “Hate crime has no place in our society and we have seen the terrible impact that it can have on victims”. Citizens UK, meanwhile, conducted a survey of 1,000 people in England and Wales which showed that 45% of women had been threatened with sexual violence.

The Law Commission report proposes that sex or gender should be made a protected characteristic in hate crime laws, primarily to protect women. The current consultation, which closes on 24 December, is on whether sex or gender should only cover women or men as well. Once the consultation is over, the government should act quickly to ensure national recognition of misogyny as a hate crime and take steps to properly address the growing abuse taking place online.

Baroness Rita Donaghy is a Labour Peer

Published 22nd November 2020

Righting wrongs

Rita Donaghy on making misogyny a hate crime

Doreen Massey on the need for government to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Children into English law 

Since the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) came into force in 1990, only three countries have failed to sign up – Somalia, South Sudan, and the United States. Its status as an international treaty makes it legally binding on those that have ratified, including the UK which did so in 1991. Next week in the Lords, however, I will ask ministers why the Convention has yet to be incorporated into legislation in England.

The 54 articles that make up the UNCRC focus on the well-being of children with regards to their health and education, as well as social, political, economic, and cultural rights. Article 2 states the right to non-discrimination; article 3 that the best interests of the child must be a top priority; and article 12 covers the right to be heard. With each country’s performance checked every five years by a UN Commission, the UK has been consistently criticised for its lack of coordination; and more specifically for shortcomings in relation to child poverty and youth justice. 

In 2005, the then Labour government outlined how legislation underpins implementation of the Convention in England. In 2009, our Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights also reported on children’s rights. And last year, ministers promised to “redouble commitments to strengthening protection for children, particularly those at grave risk of being left behind”; before adding that the promotion of children’s rights is “essential both at home and internationally.” In short, it is now time for a fresh and up to date review. 

Much has been done in the UK to improve the lives of children. Wales incorporated ‘due regard’ to the Convention into legislation in 2014, and ministers in the devolved government must now complete Child Rights Impact Assessments on any new policy put forward. In Scotland, meanwhile, the First Minister said last September that a UNCRC Incorporation (Scotland) Bill ‘incorporating the UNCRC “fully and directly” to the maximum of the Scottish Parliament’s powers’ would be introduced in the current parliamentary term. 

So, what does the UK government have against putting the Convention into legislation in England? One argument that ministers might make is “we are doing all this already” but how would we know without a structure that is externally observed and monitored? The UK is fortunate in having a committed and expert voluntary sector for children; and various Children’s Commissioners have led successful initiatives. It should, however, be for the government to coordinate action in line with legal obligations. 

The lack of coordination and funding for children’s well-being has been made even more apparent during our current pandemic. Problems of child poverty, the lack of attention to mental health services, indecisions about school meals, and educational deprivation for the most vulnerable have been highlighted. Most of these problems were there long before the multiple impact of Covid-19 kicked in.  

Expressions of support are easy, and the government needs to make a definite statement on reforming the structure of collaboration on children’s rights, with a timetable for following a route similar to Wales and Scotland. In doing so, they must communicate their intent widely and involve a range of Whitehall Departments, public bodies, and voluntary organisations to reinforce a commitment from everyone in our country to the well-being of all children. 

Baroness Doreen Massey of Darwen is a Labour Peer

Published 13th November 2020

Conventionally speaking

Doreen Massey on the need for government to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Children into English law 

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