Why Labour is wrong on TTIP

There’s actually a lot of agreement between Labour and UKIP on the proposed EU-USA trade deal (TTIP).

We agree, I think, that public services – and in particular the NHS – should not be opened up to competition from American companies.

We agree, I hope, that the notion of allowing companies to sue national governments if they don’t like their policies is absurd. And that’s why UKIP opposes the Investor-State Dispute Settlement. You can see why the Americans want it in; they don’t have the same level of trust in all 28 countries and want some recourse in law. But it’s not in the UK’s interests (and if we were allowed to negotiate our own trade deal with the USA they probably wouldn’t even be requesting it).

So what was yesterday’s spat all about? It was, at its heart, a clash between pragmatism and naïveté.

The Parliament committees aren’t really voting on TTIP at the moment. Of course they aren’t – they couldn’t just amend a proposed treaty at will, without consulting the other side! The European Parliament is considering what it thinks the EU’s negotiating position should be.

So in yesterday’s committee, William Dartmouth for UKIP proposed amendments which specified and named the British NHS as requiring protection from TTIP. Exclude other public services as well? By all means – but make no mistake about it: the NHS is a red line. We will not allow it to be privatised by a trade deal.

The Labour MEPs proposed a ‘compromise agreement’ which removed specific mention of the NHS – but did say that public services should be exempted.

Technically they’re right that no mention of the NHS is specifically required, but that’s monumentally naive. We’re discussing what the EU’s negotiating position should be.

With William’s amendment, we’d have sent a clear message to the Americans: hands off our NHS. He knew what he was doing and why. Now, the message that will be sent to America is less clear.

The Labour ‘compromise amendment’ stopped William’s amendment being voted upon; it seems that, rather than consider the benefits of a specific mention of the NHS Labour would rather ensure that an amendment didn’t pass which was proposed by UKIP. Would they have done the same, I wonder, had it been a Lib Dem amendment?

William Dartmouth is an experienced member of the Trade Committee of the European Parliament. He’s seen this all before and knew what he was doing and why. Has Labour Party politics just made the fight for our NHS a shade harder to win?

Five reasons why membership of the European Union is bad for the North East

Compelling reasons why membership of the European Union is bad for the North East have been voiced by UKIP MEP Jonathan Arnott today.

Responding to remarks by local Labour Euro-MPs giving five reasons to stay in the European Union Mr Arnott has given five cogent reasons to leave.

UKIP MEP Jonathan Arnott said:

“Sadly, the pro-EU case is selling myths (such as the idea that the EU, not NATO, keeps the peace), scaremongering (claiming that jobs are at risk when they’re not, or raising the spectre of phantom trade tariffs) and half-truths (praising some ‘good’ pieces of legislation like maternity rights – where our Parliament in Westminster could, should and does provide protection for our own workers).  There’s a positive case for trading with Europe but not being governed by Europe, which actually addresses the vast majority of their concerns.  Here are my top 5 reasons to leave:

Reason 1.  To stop sending £55 million+ of taxpayers’ money every single day to Brussels

Whenever you hear talk about ‘EU money’, remember that just means we’re getting a portion of our own taxation back.  Every EU project has been paid for – and more – by the taxpayer.

Reason 2.  To develop our global trade links and create new jobs

Outside the EU we’d be free to negotiate our own trade deals.  Forget flawed deals (like the proposed TTIP) negotiated for us by the EU Trade Commissioner.  Switzerland has more free trade deals than we do; it’s time to remember the Commonwealth, look to the wider world, and trade with emerging markets as well as Europe.

Did you know?  Companies like JCB and Dyson want to leave the EU because it would be good for trade.

Reason 3.  To control our borders

We believe that the British people, and the British Parliament in Westminster, should have the right to determine our own immigration policy.

Reason 4.  To regain the freedom to make our own laws

From agriculture to commerce, foreign aid to business, criminal justice to transport, our own Parliament in Westminster should be taking the final decisions.  Every so-called ‘good’ EU law could have been passed by our own Parliament, but we could avoid the ‘bad’ ones.

Did you know? The European Arrest Warrant leaves British citizens vulnerable to deportation without any evidence being weighed up in a British court.  

Reason 5.  To stop EU red tape and regulation strangling our small businesses

With more lobbyists in Brussels than Washington DC, big business certainly knows how to shape EU legislation so that it has a competitive advantage.  But small businesses don’t have the resources to cope.  Our small businesses shouldn’t be strangled at birth, but freed to become the big business of tomorrow.

Did you know? Many small businesses can’t afford to trade with Europe any more because of the new VATMOSS regulations.

My Column – Some issues are best decided by people, not politicians

At the time of writing, Ireland has just voted ‘Yes’ in a referendum on gay marriage.

I think that’s far more democratic than the way that gay marriage was introduced in this country, where David Cameron didn’t put it in the Conservative Party manifesto, didn’t hold a referendum, and redefined the word ‘marriage’ – a word steeped in centuries of tradition – because of his personal belief.

The decision taken in Ireland was made in a fair, open and democratic manner; the decision taken in the UK wasn’t.

The Scottish referendum on the Union engaged the public in a way that party politics simply cannot: turnout was high across all age groups. Young people care about political issues more than they care about the colour of a rosette.

Part of the answer to the age-old question of why young people in a modern society don’t vote, is that we don’t have a modern democracy. Some issues are best decided by the people not the politicians.

On a moral issue, why should an MP’s vote matter more than yours on any of these issues? The Left in British politics have opposed greater democracy for many years, fearing that people would vote for social conservativism (or the return of the death penalty – I don’t believe people would vote for it to return, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t have a referendum on it), but the Irish referendum on gay marriage proves that it isn’t so simple.

Ukip has campaigned for years to allow the public to call a referendum on key issues, through a petition with a certain number (two million at present) of signatures. Whilst Ireland’s decision was more democratic than the UK’s, wouldn’t Ukip’s proposal be more democratic still? The proposal to introduce gay marriage wouldn’t have come from a politician, but from the people.

Our big mistake in the UK was to hold a referendum on changing the voting system to AV. Top-down referendums don’t work – they should be called by the people on issues that matter to us, not by the government on issues that matter only to them.

AV was just about the only voting system that’s LESS proportional than First Past The Post, and people correctly voted it down.

Our outdated system is creaking at the seams, and a proportional system is needed: every SNP vote was ‘worth’ 149 Ukip votes in terms of the number of MPs elected. Ukip gained more votes than the SNP and Lib Dems put together, yet took one seat to their 64, and five million people voted Ukip or Green yet saw only two MPs between them.

If we’d had a proper 21st Century system of Direct Democracy, we’d have held a referendum on the European Union long ago. Now it looks as though we’ll finally get one.

The question now is, will that referendum be free and fair?

In the 1975 referendum, official government pamphlets said there would be ‘no loss’ of sovereignty, and sadly enough people believed the lie.

Now we merely watch from the sidelines as countries which didn’t join the European Union (Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland, Monaco, etc.) consistently outperform those which did, and reap the benefits of having the power to negotiate their own trade deals rather than waiting to see when the EU’s Trade Commissioner will do it for them.

Now we need to be vigilant. Will Cameron try to nudge the vote towards staying in by allowing non-British citizens to vote? Will the outright lies (and the scaremongering over mythical job losses if we leave) be countered clearly by evidence showing that trade would continue with Europe whilst we’d have the freedom to develop trade with the big wide world?

You can read the rest of this article on the Journal website here.

More of the same from this year’s Queen’s Speech

“The Queen’s speech contains a lot of ‘more of the same’, continuing to throw unrealistic amounts of taxpayers’ money at projects like HS2.

But many of the proposals are frustrating because they’re halfway to being good. Extending the right-to buy scheme is a great idea, but only if we build a new council house to replace every single one bought.

Increasing the tax threshold copies a long-standing UKIP plan, but it’s a cheap imitation because it won’t take those working a standard working week on minimum wage out of income tax altogether.

Banning so-called ‘legal highs’ is needed, but we need to see the detail to prevent loopholes being exploited.

The ‘Northern powerhouse’ remains light on detail, and I’m keen to ensure that proposals for greater democracy don’t just mean more politicians.

Sadly, it seems that nothing will be done to repeal or reform failing policies like the ‘bedroom tax’.

It’s not the worst queen’s speech, but there has been a massive missed opportunity.

My Column – Not Your Stereotypical Ukip Member

I’m writing this article on May 25th, one year to the day from the announcement of the election result, when I was elected as UKIP’s first ever North East Member of the European Parliament. Given the criticism from many people about UKIP’s work in the European Parliament, I thought I’d write about what I actually do.

When UKIP is wrong, I’m not afraid to speak out – as this article shows. Far from the media suggestion that UKIP clamps down on anyone who dares to speak out of turn, I’ve had nothing but praise for that article from within the party. No dressing down from the boss, no angry phone calls from the press office. I’ve voted against the party line in the European Parliament quite often – and never once been in trouble with the ‘whips’ for doing so. UKIP respects my freedom of conscience to vote as I see fit.

I started as I intend to go on. My term of office started on July 1st, and just days later my name was chosen at random to scrutinise the election for the Commission President. Speaking in front of the whole Parliament, I refused to scrutinise the election: we had just one candidate to choose from, and the election was by secret ballot! How, I asked, could it be right that our constituents couldn’t know how we voted? I refused to take part in the organisation of such an undemocratic process.

When the European Parliament breaks its own rules, as this video shows, I’m not afraid to speak out either. In that case, the Parliament had disabled the red button so that we could not vote ‘no’. Likewise, when the Parliament has a double standard or debate is cancelled I point that out too.

Funnily enough, with my first proper speech in the European Parliament on youth unemployment I joined a very exclusive club: my speech was actually praised by an EU Commissioner. I’d pointed out that countries should learn from each other: there are things that we can learn for example from Germany, where there is no stigma attached to a vocational route in education. Of course, I had also said that it’s more efficient for countries to fund employment programmes themselves rather than send money to the EU, only to request it back. Nevertheless, a UKIP MEP’s speech was praised by an EU Commissioner. I jokingly offered myself for disciplinary action to our Chief Whip, who was equally bemused.

Contrary to the accusations made by our opponents, I’ve turned up. My voting record is hovering between 97% and 98%; I wish it were 100% and – health permitting – that’s my target for next year. But still, it’s much higher than most parties’ records at Westminster – which, I’ll remind you, is actually in this country. The journey to Strasbourg is a 1,500-mile round trip and Brussels 1,000.

Recently I’ve taken to live tweeting the votes in the European Parliament. I think the Parliament is too remote from people in the UK, and things which would be a scandal if they occurred at Westminster pass people in Britain by when they happen in Strasbourg. Last week, President Schulz was asked whether the Parliament might hear a few words from the candidates in an internal election; his response was classic: “When we have an election, it is without debate”. Hopefully by live tweeting the votes, I can show people just how far the European Parliament falls of modern standards of democracy.

I don’t accept hospitality from lobbyists. The champagne and refreshments are free-flowing and available almost every day of the week in Brussels. There are more lobbyists in Brussels than in Washington DC. Sadly, that means that big business is able to mould legislation to give it a competitive advantage over small business. Big business doesn’t mind excessive regulation because it has the infrastructure to cope; it knows perfectly well that such regulation will harm its smaller competitors. If you attend such events, how can you know that your vote hasn’t subtly been influenced by the free champagne? For similar reasons, I don’t take part in the regular foreign junkets organised by the European Parliament.

On the other hand, I’m always much happier to spend time speaking to local businesses and constituents, helping them where I can. We may yet win the fight against the appalling lack of foresight in the VATMOSS regulations, which came into force in January and has been putting small businesses which trade with Europe out of business. Hopefully it will at least be amended to fix the problem, if not repealed entirely.

I’m keen to submit amendments to lessen the impact of proposed EU legislation, but I’ll be honest: it’s taken time to understand the intricacies of the Committee system in Brussels – and the committees I’m on are related to finance anyway, rather than legislation. So whilst I have submitted some amendments, notably to save taxpayers’ money in the EU budget (and watched whilst they were voted down), it’s not something I’ve yet been doing on a daily basis.

On the other hand, I’m one of the few British MEPs to have had the opportunity to vote on TTIP (the controversial proposed EU-USA trade deal). Knowing that one of my colleagues would miss the meeting, I volunteered to attend to make sure that UKIP was represented when TTIP came before that committee. I voted against the possibility of NHS involvement in TTIP, and against the principle of private companies having the right to sue national governments over policy. Finally, given that the votes were negative I voted against TTIP altogether.

Meanwhile I’m trying to represent an area so geographically large that it can take up to 3 hours just to drive from one end of my constituency to the other! So in order to be as accessible as possible to my constituents, I’ve spoken at public meetings the length and breadth of the region, speaking and answering questions about my role as a member of the European Parliament. There’s always a balance between doing the job in Brussels and Strasbourg – where I have some of the best records of any British MEP for speeches and Parliamentary questions – and getting back to the UK to feed back to constituents. Many of my Parliamentary questions take up causes on behalf of constituents.

The media side of my job is substantial, partly because a UKIP MEP tends to be something of a figurehead within that region and also partly because foreign TV channels are interested. So my national media appearances have included the Daily Politics, Newsbeat, Good Morning Britain, Radio 5 Live, the Today Programme, The World At One, BBC News, and many more. At a regional level, I’ve done Around the House, the Sunday Politics, ITV News and various other local radio stations. I have a regular column in a major regional newspaper, not forgetting of course to write here for the Huffington Post!

 

 

You can this article in full at my Huffington Post blog here.

Parity for pre-payment energy meters

A call was made today for Ofgem investigations into pre-payment energy meters being forcibly installed in people’s homes to go further.

Local UKIP MEP Jonathan Arnott said, “While I am pleased that the energy watchdog is looking into this practice I would like them to also press for the higher charge levied on pre-payment customers to be dropped.

“Why should those who pay in advance for their gas and electricity have to pay an average of £80 a year more than direct debit customers?

“Often those with pre-payment meters are the least able in society to meet their bills and yet they are penalised with higher charges. I would like Ofgem to press for this unfair discrimination to be stopped.”

Ofgem is to look into the imposition of pre-payment meters by court order for those who have run up debt after figures revealed that 97,000 pre-pay gas and electricity meters were installed in England, Wales and Scotland last year alone.

Mr Arnott, pointed out, “Because pre-payment meter customers are unable to benefit from competitive better deals they are at a permanent disadvantage. People struggling with debts need help, not an extra financial burden.”

ends

Jonathan Arnott MEP discusses TTIP

Much like the NHS issue, many local people have raised concerns with me about the proposed  Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal.  TTIP is a very complex proposal that if put in place will have wide reaching consequences for the people of the UK.  It is vital that we have a thorough, public debate on this issue and I am pleased that it has finally started to be dragged out of the dark, hidden backrooms of Brussels.

Whilst the party have not yet publicly announced our stance on TTIP, UKIP have formally committed ourselves to, at the very least, securing an exemption from the agreement for the NHS.

Whilst signing trade agreements with countries around the world is key to UKIP policy, aside from the well publicised potential impact it could have on the NHS, I have many concerns about this proposed agreement.  These concerns include the secretive, hidden manner in which it has been negotiated by faceless, unaccountable bureaucrats and also the proposed right for multinational corporations to sue national governments.

Most worryingly of all about this proposal is that it seems that the EU are not taking concerns with TTIP seriously and plan to plough along with the plan regardless of UK concerns that are being very widely  raised.

I support the idea of a free trade agreement between the UK and the US.  Such an agreement could potentially be very positive for both nations, but to work it would have to be very carefully crafted and it would need a full and fair public debate before it was signed. This would need to be a deal specifically and carefully tailored to be in the best interests of the people of the United Kingdom.

We now have seen a leaked draft proposal of the agreement (from the European Union) and this leak confirmed many of my fears.  It also confirmed that the NHS could well be severely impacted by the agreement – UKIP have already publically committing to,  securing an exclusion for the NHS in TTIP.

It is important to remember than this is just a proposed draft of the deal (from an EU perspective.) once this proposal had been opened to US negotiation, if they don’t reject it outright, they will demand many changes to suit their own agenda.  If the best case EU proposals don’t suit the UK, what is the US approved version going to look like?

Oh Tuesday the 24th of March, I had the privilege of voting on TTIP.  Although I am not a member of the relevant committee (IMCO), I volunteered to take the place of another MEP who was unable to attend on that day.  Naturally, I voted to support the exemption for the NHS and other public services from TTIP; this motion was carried.  I also voted against the Investor-State Dispute Settlement, but sadly was outvoted by 22-17.   Given the result of that vote, when we came to vote on the whole draft opinion, which supported TTIP, I felt therefore that I had to vote against.  This vote was also lost, by 20-18 with one abstention.

Whilst UKIP do not yet have an official stance on the issue, I have long held many deep concerns about TTIP.  The recent leaked proposal has not assuaged these concerns and whilst I am not able give a definitive answer until I see the final document, if the recently leaked draft or the proposals I recently discussed in committee come before the European Parliament, I would vote against it.

Jonathan Arnott MEP stresses that leaving the EU would not mean severing trade links with Europe

Jonathan Arnott, UKIP’s North East MEP, said that leaving the EU would not mean severing trade links with Europe, and added: “It appears that Cameron’s approach to renegotiation is to not actually ask for meaningful reform of the European Union, so there’s certainly no reason why we can’t get on with the referendum and hold it as soon as possible. The referendum has been dangled for many years, so it’s no wonder that there’s some uncertainty being caused.

“Of course, no business would want to cut our trade links with Europe – but fortunately that ‘nuclear option’ isn’t on the table. We have a stark choice to come in the referendum. There’s the status quo of a little-European mindset, continuing the EU’s backward-looking insular protectionism. Or, we can continue to trade with Europe without fear – but open our eyes to the needs of a modern, vibrant, global economy and develop our trade links with emerging markets.”