MEP congratulates former chess champion for stance against Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women

Local MEP and chess player, Jonathan Arnott, has congratulated Maria Muzychuk, a former women’s world chess champion, for her stance against Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women.

His comments come on today’s International Women’s Day – which ironically coincides with a controversial visit to this country by Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who has been welcomed by Theresa May.

Mr Arnott, an independent Euro-MP, met the former champion at the European Parliament yesterday (Tue) where she simultaneously played chess against about 25 people, including Mr Arnott.

“I managed to win my game, thanks to the somewhat lopsided nature of a simultaneous display. I was able to devote 100% of my attention to the game, whereas she was not,” he explained

“Her sister Anna was the reigning world rapidplay and blitz champion. They refused to compete in the most recent world chess championships in Saudi Arabia in protest at the Saudi Kingdom’s treatment of women.

“Those women who were prepared to compete had to dress according to the Kingdom’s rules. The ‘when in Rome’ principle my apply as far as tourism is concerned – but it is wrong to insist that this must be a condition of defending a title. In this, I think, FIDE (the world chess governing body) erred by holding the event in Saudi Arabia.

“They were principled – and right – to refuse to compete. Doubtless, their claim that they would have ‘earned more than in a dozen events combined’ is probably absolutely true, and demonstrates how important this sacrifice was to them.

“One of the great things about chess is that there exists no barrier to competition – to win, or to lose, depends first and foremost on your ability and skill level. If you’re sexist (or racist or any other kind of ist) during a game of chess, that arrogance will lead to underperformance. The game itself is the ultimate meritocracy.”

jon and chess champ 2

‘Impossible demands’ raise doubts over Brexit deal

‘Impossible demands’ contained in a draft European Parliament resolution on Brexit has led to a British MEP to question whether the European Parliament really wants to do any kind of deal with the United Kingdom.

The resolution comes just a week after the European Commission published a draft EU Withdrawal Treaty which would allow EU courts to overrule the UK and even decide the size of the so-called ‘divorce bill’.

Independent MEP Jonathan Arnott said “There are only three possibilities here: It’s possible that the European Parliament is merely playing political games, sabre-rattling to draw attention to itself as it often does. Perhaps it is trying to make any Brexit deal as difficult as possible in an attempt to undermine and reverse Brexit, or maybe it is genuinely trying to push the UK away from the table and force a no-deal scenario.”

The European Parliament’s bizarre proposals include suggestions that taxation should be ‘integrated’ between the United Kingdom and the European Union (forcing the UK to change its own tax structure after leaving the EU), that the European Court of Justice should forever have the power to override the United Kingdom, and that financial services should be ‘limited’ in any trade agreement. Furthermore, they want the UK to make further financial payments to the European Union.

Mr Arnott, MEP for the North East, said “The European Union makes much of the doctrine of ‘sincere co-operation’ when they want to stop the UK from doing something, but there’s precious little evidence that they think it applies to them too. They’re completely ignoring Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty that suggests our future relationship should be based upon a spirit of co-operation, prosperity and good neighbourliness.

“If the European Parliament were to get its way, the European Union’s desire to control every aspect of our daily lives would continue even after we leave. Their control-freakery knows no bounds. If we did a trade deal with any other nation or organisation in the world, they wouldn’t expect to be able to interfere with our tax system. Their notion that we should pay them for continuing tariff-free trade is back to front – we’re in trade deficit with them; any ‘compensation’ for non-receipt of tariffs would be the other way around.

“If the United Kingdom had set out its negotiating position in such a way – suggesting that our Supreme Court should be the ultimate arbiter of any UK-EU deal, they would have rightly accused us of breathtaking arrogance. It’s just plain common sense that if you want to work together, you negotiate as equals not as bullies. Just how bad does it have to get before the British Labour Party will admit that there’s something deeply wrong with the European Union’s attitude towards negotiations?

“It seems the European Parliament wants to test the mantra that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ by deliberately making any deal as unrealistic as possible. Theresa May’s statement last week that she won’t threaten a walkout from negotiations has clearly been treated as a sign of weakness by the European Parliament.”

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The text of the draft resolution can be found at:

https://g8fip1kplyr33r3krz5b97d1-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/PARL-Draft_Resolution_4_0503-1930.pdf

Response to impact studies claiming that the UK will be substantially worse off as a result of Brexit

An in-depth report about studies claiming the UK will suffer as a result of Brexit has been produced by Independent MEP Jonathan Arnott.

The document responds to the majority of studies into the economic impact of the UK leaving the EU predict that our economy will be negatively affected. Mr Arnott, Independent MEP for the North East, points out that the same modelling techniques when tested against real economic data between the date of the EU referendum and now show that there have been profound inaccuracies:

“This leads to the question – Is there any reason to suppose that such projections will be any more accurate when referring to after Brexit? I believe that there is every reason to suppose they’ll be just as bad, because the same factors causing previous projections to be wrong still apply today.”

Mr Arnott claims that there are five main areas in which impact assessments lean heavily against Brexit:

1. That underlying assumptions fail to fully take into account anticipated changes in EU policy

2. That current modelling techniques underestimate ‘added value’ arising from Brexit

3. That headline claims are often misleading and ‘gold-plate’ the content of reports

4. That ‘groupthink’ or circular reasoning leads to confirmation bias

5. That modelling does not (or can not) fully consider extra policy options afforded by Brexit

Mr Arnott said:

“As the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union, it’s important that claims are critically examined. I’ve seen politicians of all sides either praise or deny the results of Brexit impact assessments, often without even having read them. Of course, some documents aren’t even available for us to read – but I thought it was important to study the available research. Having done so, it’s become clear to me that some of the biggest positives of a clean Brexit aren’t really modelled (though they would be difficult to model). I am not seeking to carry out a detailed analysis of my own – merely to put others in context.”

Response to Theresa May’s Brexit speech

Whilst Theresa May’s speech did strike some positive notes, overall her approach fails to inspire confidence. It was a more detailed speech than most, and detail demands a careful and nuanced response.

Theresa May has taken changes to EU state aid rules off the table. Those same state aid rules prevented meaningful and timely action being taken over SSI in Redcar; this concession is a serious error of judgement from the Prime Minister.

If the UK is pushing keeping EU and UK regulatory standards too closely aligned for the long term, this must surely have a negative impact upon our ability to negotiate good free trade deals with other nations. Does May’s approach not reduce some of the ‘added value’ of regaining that freedom to negotiate independently with third countries?

May’s proposal for associate membership of European Union agencies, and the financial contributions (albeit relatively small) which that would entail, is a dangerous one. It is one which could set a very negative precedent.

Fundamentally, our Prime Minister is taking an approach which is dangerous, and likely to fail. In this speech, just as in others,she comes across as terrified of upsetting the EU. The danger of such an approach is that it can be perceived as weakness. The European Union’s approach in negotiation is to ask for things it knows it won’t get, and force the UK to push back. Theresa May, though, keeps telling us what she ‘won’t’ ask for because the EU won’t want to give. If she does not ask for more, where is the wriggle-room, the room for manoeuvre and compromise? The danger must surely be that the UK will end up compromising on issues which are important to her.

Theresa May used to say that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, but by taking off the table the possibility of walking away from talks, she has effectively done a U-turn on that too. It will be perceived by the European Union side as evidence of weakness.

Nevertheless, there are four points in May’s speech which are worth praising:

1. She is absolutely correct to state that  “the ultimate arbiter of the future UK-EU agreement cannot be the court of either side”. This is vital; we can not – and must not – permit EU courts to overrule our own. This was the most pernicious detail of the EU’s draft Withdrawal Agreement released this week, and it is good that Theresa May has picked up on it.

2. She is correct, also, to insist that the European Union’s approach to trade agreements is misleading: it is right to say that we will not ‘accept the rights of Canada and the obligations of Norway’. It is right to point out that a Canada-style deal would be incompatible with any current proposal for Northern Ireland, and indeed it is right to suggest that the Commission’s inflexible approach is unnecessary.

3. It is correct to put forward constructive suggestions regarding Northern Ireland and the avoidance of a hard border. Such issues can, if the political will exists on both sides, be overcome. The fear is that the European Union wants to create this hurdle rather than to resolve the issue.

4. Finally she is correct to hit back at EU accusations of ‘cherry-picking’. Like snowflakes, no two free trade agreements are alike. If this is cherry-picking, then every free trade agreement in history is cherry-picking.
It is, perhaps, a sign of the ineptitude which this government has shown in recent months that I can say this speech was not quite as bad as might have been expected. When expectations are so low, even a poor speech like this one seems almost reasonable by comparison.

Response to European Union Draft Withdrawal Agreement

Much has been made politically today about the European Union’s attempted power-grab over Northern Ireland through the Draft Withdrawal Agreement.

This is all valid, but in focusing on this so-called ‘dead cat strategy’ it would be easy to miss much of the rest which is contained within the text of the draft Agreement.

The biggest threat to UK sovereignty is that this Agreement would give EU courts sweeping power over the UK forever; the 8-year ‘sunset clause’ is written in such a way that it would not apply to huge swathes of the Agreement. For such an Agreement to be policed by the Courts of one side rather than the other is politically unacceptable.

The points below have generally not yet been picked up on by the press or  most politicians, but it is vital that Theresa May does not allow them to go unchallenged:

1. The Draft Withdrawal Agreement is a document written by one side, designed to protect the interests of only the EU side.

2. Throughout the text, references are made to UK obligations to follow European Union law.

3. The absence of provision of specific rights to the United Kingdom across various areas is glaring.

4. In certain areas, obligations are on both sides.

5. Article 161 makes the Agreement exclusive, to prevent the UK relying upon international law or anything external to the Agreement itself.

6. Article 162 provides for a resolution for the settlement of disputes, which will at first instance be resolved by the Joint Committee established in Article 157.

7. Decisions of the Joint Committee will be binding under Article 159(2).

8. Where any dispute is irreconcilable by the Joint Committee (and this is likely to occur frequently in practice, given that the Committee will be comprised of representatives of the EU and of the UK), the final arbiter of a dispute will be the European Union’s own courts under Article 163(1).

9. The UK will therefore be subject to the rulings of the European Court of Justice, with no clear sunset clause.

10. The European Court of Justice will have the power under Article 163(2) to fine the United Kingdom.

11. Either the UK or the EU can suspend parts of the agreement under Article 163(3)(a). However, such a decision can be reversed by the European Court of Justice – meaning that, in practice, only the European Union would have the power to suspend parts of the agreement.

12. Worse still, this Agreement claims jurisdiction over any other Agreement between the European Union and the UK. Consequently, the Agreement permits the European Court of Justice to judicially review a decision for the United Kingdom to withdraw from any other Agreement which it might have with the European Union under Article 163(3)(b).

13. Article 165 provides for a one-sided ability for the European Union to suspend UK access to the Single Market during the transitional period.

14. Article 151 introduces an 8-year sunset clause for the European Court of Justice’s ability to rule on matters affecting the UK. However, that sunset clause appears to be limited in scope to Part II of the Agreement. The sunset clause does not apply to Part VI of the Agreement, and therefore to the situations referred to in Articles 161 through 165.

15. Consequently, the European Court of Justice could continue to overrule the United Kingdom in perpetuity.

16. The European Union will calculate (Article 133) the amounts of money it wants the UK to pay in the ‘divorce bill’. Likewise, in Articles 135(3), 136(2), 136(3),136(5), 136(6), 136(8), 137(4), 140 and 141(2), it is clear that the EU will make the calculations.

17. In some areas where the EU is liable to the UK (the EIF and the Coal and Steel Community in Articles 138 and 139) the Agreement does not make clear who is making the calculations.

18. In the case of the investment portion of the EDF (Article 145), the method of determining how much money the UK receives is said to be ‘the same as’ that of Article 137, which presumably means calculated by the EU.

19. The only recourse available to the UK if it disputes the EU’s calculations appears to be to the Committee on the financial provisions (Article 158(1)(a)) and/or the Joint Committee. Ultimately, the arbiter of this would be the European Court of Justice – the EU’s own court.

20. Article 122 appears, by omission, to seek to prevent the UK from negotiating trade deals with third countries during the transitional period: Article 122(1) states that all Union law shall be applicable during the transitional period, except for any variations later.

21. The doctrine of ‘sincere co-operation’, used by the European Union to justify a ban on the UK negotiating such deals, is not listed amongst the exceptions.

22. The Citizens’ Rights section of the draft Agreement (Title II Chapter 1) almost exclusively deals with legislation it wishes to still apply to the UK post-Brexit.

23. This method should be unacceptable to the UK; one party to an agreement should not be able to frame that agreement in terms of legislation.

24. The draft Agreement regularly places burdens upon the UK with no equivalent burden being placed upon the European Union, for example in data protection (Article 7) and information sharing (Articles 40 and 41).

25. Article 148 requires the UK to pay towards a facility for refugees in Turkey.

26. Article 152 requires the UK to set up a new monitoring authority to monitor the implementation of the Agreement.

27. Article 32 limits the rights of UK citizens living abroad to move between Member States, treating the European Union as a collection of Member States. Whilst this approach is in itself unobjectionable, it shows the European Union itself cherry-picking by creating an exclusion to their own principle of treating the European Union as a single entity.

Response to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech regarding the customs union

The big question about Jeremy Corbyn’s speech today was whether it will make it easier, or harder, for the UK to negotiate a good deal with the European Union. He’s just answered that question: it’ll be harder.

When people voted to leave the European Union, we voted to take back control over our finances, our laws, our courts, our borders and our right to sign trade deals with other nations.

For the last 45 years, Jeremy Corbyn has voted for eurosceptic principles. Today Jeremy Corbyn betrays Jeremy Corbyn, betrays Brexit, and betrays you.

Whatever weasel words they use, substituting ‘the’ for ‘a’, today is the day that Labour make clear they do not support the will of the British people. They do not support the referendum result, in which more people voted Leave than have ever voted for anything in British political history. They do not support their own General Election Manifesto, to which scores of Labour MPs owe their seats. They no longer stand by repeated statements of their own leadership and Shadow Cabinet, and they place themselves firmly against the spirit of the European Union (notification of withdrawal) Act 2017, for which so many of them voted and on which they had a three-line whip.

Perhaps it is time for honest, decent Labour MPs to consider whether they can continue to take the Labour whip when the Labour whip has so fundamentally changed.