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Dianne Hayter on the threat to Britain’s prosperity posed by hard Brexit rhetoric

In rather timely fashion, this week’s House of Lords debate on Brexit: deal or no deal – a recent report from our EU Committee – coincided with the first anniversary of the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech. A speech where Mrs May regrettably gave legs to the rather vacuous “no deal is better than a bad deal” nonsense.

In hoping that both the report (and the debate) help ministers move on from using scare tactics that those across the negotiation territory view as bluster, four issues stand out.

Firstly, a unanimity of advice to the Committee that the ‘no deal’ option lacks merit. The report notes “very few witnesses identified any positives arising as a result of ‘no deal’”. Labour Lords colleague and former Chancellor Alistair Darling told the Committee he was struggling “to find any country of any significance that traded purely on WTO rules”, while the CBI’s John Foster said ‘no deal’ would see 90% of UK exports by value face tariffs. Still, as the Committee concluded, the very repetition of the rhetoric risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ministers insist ‘no deal’ is an option but then act surprised when the EU27 appear to continue to prepare for such an eventuality. Indeed, David Davis has had the effrontery (in a letter to the Prime Minister) to attack their ‘damaging’ no-deal planning, even consulting lawyers (at tax payers expense) over the EU’s preparations. As the Commission spokesman responded: "We in the European Commission we are surprised that the United Kingdom is surprised that we are preparing for a scenario announced by the UK government itself."

What the EU has done is to stress that companies (especially in haulage and aviation) should prepare in case the UK leaves the single market and customs union on 29 March 2019, warning that certain agreements or contracts could be at risk with ‘no deal’. In such a situation, some companies may need to relocate to another member state. As the Commission makes clear in related documents, if there’s no deal agreed by October 2018, the status quo would come to an abrupt halt next March.

The second issue is that it’s difficult to believe the government really believes ‘no deal’ could ever be satisfactory, given it would mean the following long list of problems: no security for UK citizens living abroad, the likelihood of a hard border in Ireland, immediate imposition of tariffs, customs checks, travel visas and less flights to continental Europe, nuclear materials stacked at the border, no judicial cooperation or European Arrest Warrants, no new trade agreement with any other country, and the loss of all 57 existing trading relations with third countries, 17 mile tailbacks at Dover, a devastating impact on our farming community, food safety and food prices, a rift in the all-Ireland energy electricity market posing threats to Northern Ireland’s lights, the financial sector in jeopardy, and – according to a thorough impact assessment commissioned by the Mayor of London – some half a million jobs under threat, and a decade of lower employment and economic growth with perhaps £50bn investment lost. Not forgetting the lack of a transition accord – something not possible without a deal.

Thirdly, the Whitehall farce returned last week with the anticipated new ‘No Deal Brexit Minister’ failed to appear replaced by a new minister who doesn’t even want a transition. So ‘No No Nanette’ is becoming ‘Yes, No, Maybe: we’ll tell the EU27 we want a deal, but appoint a Minister who doesn’t?’ It would perhaps be funny if not so serious. As the report puts it, failure to reach agreement is not a continuation of the status quo. No Deal would mean the abrupt cessation of over 40 years of economic, political and legal partnership. Or in the words of Lord Jay, the Chair of the Committee: “It is difficult, if not impossible, to envisage a worse outcome for the UK”.

Finally, with Peers preparing for the imminent arrival of the Withdrawal Bill, the decision to close the EU door behind us with no agreement on our future relationship should not be taken by ministers. It should be taken by Parliament on behalf of the nation and Labour will seek to amend the legislation to ensure this happens.

Baroness Dianne Hayter is Shadow Brexit Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @HayteratLords

Published 17th January 2017

Raw deal

Dianne Hayter on the threat to Britain’s prosperity posed by hard Brexit rhetoric

MaggieJones2014.JPGMaggie Jones on the UK’s need to play a bigger part in cleaning up the world’s oceans

Today in the House of Lords, the government will take a small step in tackling ocean plastic pollution by banning microbeads in personal care products. An overdue but welcome move on which Labour has campaigned for several years.

A significant move too, as plastic microbeads are an unnecessary but extensive part of the cosmetics industry with an estimated 100,000 microbeads washed down the sink with each application. From there they can easily pass through water filtration systems into rivers and oceans where they are consumed by birds and marine creatures who mistake them for fish eggs. Then it is just one small step to the food chain, through the larger fish consumed by humans.

While the full human health impacts are still being assessed, the damaging effect on marine life is well known. Urgent action was therefore imperative. Labour has worked with Greenpeace and other NGO’s to raise awareness of the damage being caused. Meanwhile, the wonderful work of David Attenborough and the Blue Planet series has hardened public attitudes, with 85% of people now wanting action to stop plastic waste entering our oceans.

In this wider challenge, a ban on microbeads may only play a small part. But it is still important, as once the microbeads enter the oceans they cannot be cleaned up and take up to 700 years to disintegrate. There is no justification therefore, for adding to the pollution.

A number of cosmetic companies have already recognised the need to act, voluntarily removing microbeads from their products. The ban being announced today however, will make it illegal to produce or sell microbeads in all rinse off products in the UK – creating a level playing field for business. At the same time, research is developing new natural alternatives, including ground almonds and apricot kernels.

Despite these developments, challenges remain.

First, the legislation being debated in the Lords today does not cover off products that remain in the skin. It has also been suggested that microbeads in industrial cleaning products far outnumber those used in personal care. So there is an urgent need to extend the use of natural alternatives and deliver a complete ban.

Second, the legislation assumes that local authorities, and specifically Trading Standard Officers, will enforce the ban. Difficult, when such council services are starved of cash and the staff tasked with doing so will need training and guidance on implementing the new rules – support that may not be forthcoming. And their task will be made harder by the fact that cosmetic product labelling fails to specify whether or not a product contains microbeads. That will necessitate separate research and analysis being carried out on suspect items. So a further cost.

Third, and finally, plastics in our oceans obviously don’t respect national borders. A ban on microbeads in the UK may be ground breaking but it will have a marginal effect unless other countries follow suit. So there is a need to work both within the EU and on a transnational basis to deliver a global shift in policy. We all have a role to play in making this happen and Labour will remain at the forefront of the campaign.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is Shadow Defra Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl

Published 18th December 2017

 

Deep and meaningful

Maggie Jones on the UK’s need to play a bigger part in cleaning up the world’s oceans

LesleyTurnberg4x3.jpgLeslie Turnberg on the centenary anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, negative consequences and hopes for the future

Arthur Balfour would have been aghast to know that a century after his declaration the Israeli/Palestinian conflict lingers on. But why in the middle of a war with Germany that was going badly wrong did Balfour and the British government come out in favour of a home for the Jews in Palestine? And having been so supportive in 1917, why in 1939 did the government publish the notorious White Paper that put a block on immigration at a time when Europe was becoming a death camp for many Jews? And why now is our government saying it will mark the Balfour centenary with pride rather than accede to Palestinian requests to apologize for it?

Many people consider the declaration as the massive error of judgement on the government’s part while others see it as the most magnanimous gesture towards a persecuted people that an Imperial nation could make.

Many reasons have been suggested why the British went ahead with plan. Was it to press American Jews to persuade the President Wilson to enter the war on the Allies side? But when they did, it had nothing to do with the Jews and everything to do with German pressure to persuade Mexico to invade the US and the torpedoing of ships by U-boats.

A more cogent explanation was Britain’s need to have a reliable ally in the Middle East to combat the Ottoman Empire. They could rely on the Jews but not on Arab tribes – some of whom had sided with the Turks. Like the Prime Minister at the time of the declaration Lloyd George, Balfour had been favourably disposed towards the Zionist cause well before the First World War. And on his deathbed, Balfour told his niece that what he had done for the Jews had been most worth his doing.

It is often thought that the declaration was a purely British proposal – something that flies in the face of the evidence that Britain could not have gone ahead without backing from its allies. The French had already given their written support, followed by the Italians and Russians; then finally the Americans. It clearly had international backing and surprisingly the Grand Shariff Hussein and his son Prince Faisal in Mecca did not object. Indeed, they welcomed immigration of Jews into what they regarded as a neglected corner of Arabian lands.

Once however, Hussein realized he had been duped by the British when it was revealed that Britain and France would take control of the Middle East under their mandates, all of that sweetness and light was lost. It was this manifestation of western imperialism that turned the Arabic leadership against the Jews, who became regarded as a local symbol of colonialism.

It was only later that the declaration was converted from a simple expression of support into a legally binding document – first at San Remo in 1920, and then in Geneva at the League of Nations in 1922. Britain was now mandated to provide a home for the Jews in Palestine with all 51 nations voting in favour. And this was the legal statement taken up by the United Nations in 1947 that finally led to the state of Israel.

Of course, it could have got lost in the meantime. During the 1920s and 1930s, Arab riots made Britain think of rescinding the declaration. It was too late but that did not stop our government curtailing immigration and land purchase by the Jews. And in the 1939 notorious White Paper, it put a complete block on immigration just as the Jews were being herded towards Hitler’s gas chambers.

It was almost miraculous that the Zionists’ dream survived. But aggressive acts of terror led by Menachem Begin and others helped persuade the British, by now eager to be rid of the poisoned chalice, to hand the mandate over to the UN. Then in 1947, the UN partition plan introduced – something the Jews accepted but the Arabs immediately rejected. It turned out to be a great mistake since it would have given the Palestinians a much greater slice of the land they are fighting for now and would have avoided much bloodshed.

Today, 100 years after Balfour promised a home for the Jews in Palestine, the more pragmatic Arab nations, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states, have accepted the idea of a Jewish state in the Middle East. If Israelis and Palestinians can reach an agreement, the advantages to both sides would be enormous.

Will it happen sometime soon? Hardly likely. Will it require new and braver leaders on both sides? Almost certainly. Is it worth all the effort? Absolutely.

Lord Leslie Turnberg is a Labour Peer. His book Beyond the Balfour Declaration: The Hundred Year Quest for Israeli-Palestinian Peace was published earlier this year by Biteback https://www.bitebackpublishing.com/books/the-balfour-declaration 

Published 18th December 2017

A fateful declaration

Leslie Turnberg on the centenary anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, negative consequences and hopes for the future

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