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A vision for the Liberal Democrats

By Alex Chatham
June 16th, 2017 at 1:28 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in Civil Liberties, EU, EU Politics, Free trade, freedom, Labour, Tim Farron

The Liberal Democrats are looking for a new leader. Tim Farron has stood down after leading the party through a General Election campaign and increasing the amount of MPs the party had in parliament. The party’s pitch during the campaign was to offer voters an alternative to Brexit. The party’s heart isn’t in leaving the European Union but instead of promising to reverse the process, they suggested a second referendum with an option to remain.

The voters took no notice.

This has led commentators and politicians to claim that two-party politics are back and third parties have had it. Perhaps. But we have heard this sort of thing before. We have also read about the death of the Labour party and demise of the Conservative party. Support for parties ebb and flow. The Lib Dems could yet again capture the popular imagination or at least influence debate and public policy.

To do that, the party needs a vision. There are many ways to go but it will come as no surprise that a post from this site suggests embracing free markets and free trade. That means a change of direction on Brexit.

The Labour party’s position on Brexit appears to be ‘we will do it, reluctantly’. The Conservatives are still arguing among themselves with a few voices offering a clear path to the exit doors. Could the Lib Dems pivot away from a slavish love of the EU and truly embrace internationalism?

Free trade creates prosperity. That is real free trade not  regulated trade or negotiated trade. With Britain out of the EU, its government can opt for trade deals with other countries which impose regulations or tarrifs or it could go for real free trade. No tarrifs, just let companies trade with each other. What a difference that would make to the economies of Africa. Right now, those African countries are penalised by the EU because EU countries protect their farmers. Ironic isn’t it that for all the criticism of Trump and his ‘America First’ mantra, the EU has been putting EU countries first for a long time. The Lib Dems could set out a vision for a free trading nation, managing migration to allow people with the talent and skills from all over the world to come and work in Britain, not just the EU, reform of its own markets to stop ‘crony capitalism’ which ensured open, free markets. Coupled with the party’s commitment to civil liberties and personal freedom, this new addition would make a distinctive offering to voters.

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UK Democrats?

By Guest
July 11th, 2016 at 10:56 am | Comments Off on UK Democrats? | Posted in EU Politics, UK Politics

The New Party for Brit… sorry Europe… was raised again over the weekend. This time in reference to Labour and Conservative moderates uniting to create something vaguely SDP-like, or perhaps a new Alliance with the rump Liberal Democrats.

I commented previously on the unwisdom of the golden hoard running a 48% strategy. Or at least banging on about Europe like some kind of EUKIP, when most of the time EU relations are not even in the top ten of issues that voters care about.

I’m not sure there’s much difference with the broader proposal. Bar it adds in a whole new level of problems given that the last thing most Conservatives and Labour supporters would accept would be playing second fiddle to either each other, let alone the leadership of Tim Farron. EUKIP isn’t the right strategy.

That is not to say realignment is wrong in itself. Evidently there is a space in politics for a UK Democrats Party. A split in Labour between socialists and social democrats now looks quite likely. With the majority of Parliamentary support sitting with the latter. Such a party could attract the kind of talent the Liberal Democrats need to survive, prompting a similar albeit more gradual split there.

Some Conservative modernisers might also be attracted to that pitch. But not in large numbers. Very disgruntled Remainers possibly. Losers from the next round of Cabinet promotions. Michael Gove… possibly not.

A deeper Conservative split is less likely. Largely as it’s happened already. UKIP already exists. There is little evidence of a split in the grassroots of anything like the depth of poison evident in Labour.

Whatever is being said on Twitter about the two current Tory leadership candidates. Differences between them in substance are slight. Style and experience, tone and focus, seem more the dividing lines than policy and promises. Both would attempt to build unity Cabinets. Both would try and make Brexit work. Both would do things that enrage self-appointed guardians of the status quo.

Either could be beaten by a well organised, well led progressive alternative. The only snag being that such a Party is unlikely to come oven-ready as the consequence of the collapse of Labour.

It just isn’t obvious who the Leader would be. Eagle is no Merkel, Owen Smith isn’t even Eagle. Umuna flounced his first outing. Jarvis failed to excite anyone with his testing of the waters last year. Starmer is hiding in London. Reeves looks more plausible as Chancellor than Leader. And so the list of ‘not quite rights’ on the right goes on.

The left of the Liberal Democrats would never let Tim Farron do a Paddy ‘project’ on them. Often they are more comfortable with Corbyn than his critics. The right of the party could wander off, but might feel no more comfortable with the pro-ID cards faction of Labour than they do with the pro-Palestine faction of Liberal Democracy.

The Greens would still be there, and still be hopeless.

Meanwhile UKIP is intent of scything a slice of working class votes from both Labour and the Conservatives, with a new populist front. The UK Democrats then could end up as a metropolitan party, alongside continuity LDs and Greens. That pool of votes isn’t large enough to win power.

So it’s a pickle. The project is possible. It’s just not obviously going to succeed any more than the SDP did. Difficult choices await, particularly if Corbyn gets on the ballot and wins.

Nick Clegg should say No Thank EU – UPDATE

By Angela Harbutt
August 8th, 2013 at 10:54 am | 7 Comments | Posted in EU, EU Politics, Europe, Uncategorized

So not only did Conservative MP Anna Soubry act in defiance of UK parliament when she hot-footed it over to Luxembourg to negotiate on behalf of the UK at a meeting of European ministers. We now know that her support for the European Commissions proposals at that meeting was decisive in giving the green light to the Tobacco Products Directive.

In a letter (dated July 31st) to Bill Cash MP (Chairman, House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee) Soubry says:

“The committee asked whether the UK’s support was vital to a General Approach being agreed” (at the Council of European health ministers meeting on 21st June)…..

“Four member states – Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland and Romania were unable to offer their support, which meant that the UK’s support (of the Tobacco Products Directive) was decisive in forming a qualified majority” 

Given that we know Ms Soubry asked for, but was refused, a waiver from the relevant House of Commons committee, her statement should more accurately read :

Four member states – Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland and Romania were unable to offer their support, which meant that my support  (of the Tobacco Products Directive), acting on my own and in defiance of UK parliament, was decisive in forming a qualified majority

Quite how one woman – sticking two fingers up to the UK democratic process – was able to waltz into a room and declare she was negotiating on behalf of the United Kingdom – when, in fact she clearly had no authority to do so whatsoever –  will be beyond most people’s comprehension.

That her role was then “decisive” in “forming a qualified majority” at the meeting will shock and infuriate in equal measure.

In her letter Soubry goes on to explain what she thought was likely to happen had the UK abstained at the meeting.

“The Committee asked me what I thought was likely to happen to the Directive (had UK not offered support).

Whilst this would not have immediately killed of the Directive, which I believe will bring important public health benefits to the UK, it would almost certainly have represented a serious set-back. It would have re-opened the debate across all aspects of the Directive…

It would also have made it very unlikely that the revised Directive would have been adopted by Council and the European Parliament within the terms of the current European Parliament and the European Commission.”

That’s it. If Soubry had abstained (surely the correct thing to do when the proposed European legislation in question is still under scrutiny by the UK parliament?), the Directive would have continued but at a slower pace. Given the complexities involved; and indeed the far reaching unintended consequences of  the proposals, a bit more time thinking and discussing before acting is almost certainly what’s needed.

It’s hard to know if Soubry was set up/hoodwinked/sweet-talked into taking the action she did  (junior ministers come and go but bureaucrats, it seems, go on forever) or if her own obsession with plain packaging/incompetence was the cause.

What ever the reason, the fact that her role at the Council meeting of European Ministers was “decisive” in determining the outcome of that meeting is a very serious turn of events.   And whilst it is important to understand how and why we arrived at this sad and sorry place (if we are to avoid such catastrophic errors in the future) the real question is what will the UK coalition government, the European Commission and indeed MEPs themselves do to put all of this right?

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Nick Clegg should say No Thank EU

By Angela Harbutt
August 1st, 2013 at 11:52 am | 19 Comments | Posted in EU, EU Politics, European Politics, Liberal Democrats

A couple of days ago I re-read the “Liberal Democrat Manifesto for Europe”. On the summary page it says

“Liberal Democrats don’t believe in one-size-fits-all solutions. This is because Liberal Democrats believe that individual people, families and their communities know best about the things that affect them, so decision should be taken by them, not by distant politicians and bureaucrats in Westminster or Brussels.

That is why we insist that Europe does not act when national, regional or local action is more effective.”

I assume that is still the party position (given that the web site is still live).

I am sure that most Liberal Democrats agree that on matters of public health this is especially true.  Decision-making should wherever possible, be taken at national, regional or local level, not left to the whims of unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.

I am also sure that the party will agree that if the UK parliament has been deliberately denied the opportunity to scrutinise any European legislation, (having refused to provide a waiver on scrutiny), then that legislation should not be allowed to proceed until such times as it has.

All that being the case I will be asking Nick, as Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, to take action on a rather scandalous state of affairs.

Back in June, Conservative MP and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, Anna Soubry was summoned, very hastily, to attend a General Council meeting in Luxembourg on 21st June. The purpose of the meeting was to agree, with other health ministers from around Europe, the “general approach” to be taken on the revised Tobacco Products Directive.

Soubry requested waivers from the scrutiny committees in both Houses. The Lords agreed but the Commons European soubry picScrutiny Committee said no on the grounds that there was insufficient time (less than two weeks) to examine the very many (and complex) issues involved. Soubry decided to over-ride the House of Commons scrutiny committee, and played a full and “crucial” role in the discussions on Europe-wide regulation at the June 21st meeting.

The Directive is now due to be voted on by MEPs in the first week of September. This vote too has been hastily forced up the agenda (scheduled for October, it has now been moved to early September).

Voters in Britain will rightly wonder what is going on. Why is Brussels in such a hurry to get this legislation rushed through? Why has UK parliament been denied the right to examine the proposed EU laws? Why are most of the public wholly unaware of the proposals and therefore prevented from expressing their views on the matter? Why indeed is Europe forcing through laws banning swathes of products that no UK government has sought fit to do?

No wonder Euro-scepticism is on the rise. No wonder at least half of the adult population believe that the UK would be better off outside of the EU if this is how legislation is introduced.

The scrutiny committee has already summoned Soubry to explain herself (and a very sad and sorry affair it was too). The chair (Bill Cash MP) has stated :

“We consider that insufficient information was made available to the committee to enable it to scrutinise the Commission’s proposals”

“Negotiations on the draft Directive appear to have proceeded at unwarranted haste given its far-reaching implications”

“The draft Directive remains under scrutiny”

That begs the question how on earth can MEPs vote on the Directive proposals in early September when the Directive is still under scrutiny in the UK Parliament?

I will be asking Nick to take action. This is a cast-iron chance to make the words in the manifesto count; make it clear that EU laws that by-pass proper scrutiny in Westminster will not be tolerated.

I will be asking Nick to:

  1. 1. Work with others (including Lib Dem MEPs) to ensure that the EU delay any vote on this Directive (which has been rushed through faster than a high-speed train) until such times as Westminster has been given sufficient time to examine the proposals contained in the Directive. There is no good reason to force this through in September when, for want of a few weeks or so, the ministers can re-convene and discuss this proposal with the benefit of more time, consideration and proper parliamentary scrutiny. Then, and only then should MEPs be given the opportunity to vote on the proposals.
  2. 2. Ensure that decision-making on UK public health remains with elected politicians here in the UK, not Brussels bureaucrats.

Earlier this week the smokers’ group Forest launched a new campaign No Thank EU seeking to give the British people a voice on this piece of desperately hurried and deeply flawed EU legislation.road-sign-logo6

But it should not be left to Forest to bang on doors demanding  that the EU be made to pause whilst elected politicians here in the UK (and elsewhere I have no doubt) are actually given sufficient time to review carefully what is proposed.  Nor should it be Forest’s job to fight to ensure that decision-making on matters of UK public health remains in the UK.

This is an ideal opportunity for Nick in particular, and the party more generally, to demonstrate to voters that being Pro-European does not mean remaining silent when Brussels gets it wrong. To show that liberals are willing and able to stand up to Europe when UK parliamentary processes are circumvented or when the Commission moves beyond its remit.

I understand that smoking is a controversial topic and that some Liberal Democrats believe that any measures that may reduce smoking rates should be embraced. But this view is deeply flawed if they are willing to allow proper process to be casually caste aside in the process. Those who are passionate about the need for yet more smoking legislation and support the EU measures proposed should lobby for their inclusion in the Liberal Democrat manifesto – not hide behind Brussels bureaucrats. That is how democracy works, surely?

I have listed the key EU proposals below. I know that Lib Dem MEPs are already deeply concerned about the proposals on e-cigarettes contained in this Directive and have spoken out about it publicly on several occasions. But speaking out about some aspects of the Directive, or seeking amendments come the September vote, doesn’t go far enough.

It’s like agreeing to play a game of football knowing that the hosts of the game have changed all the rules and given themselves a 3 goal advantage. To play the game legitimises the new rules. That won’t help the 1.3 million+ vapers or 10 million+ smokers and it will outrage many ordinary voters who will wonder what on earth the EU will be allowed to railroad through next.

This is bad legislation, rushed through to avoid proper scrutiny. I am asking Liberal Democrats individually and collectively, and the leader specifically, to make a stand.

Signing the petition would be helpful so please do go ahead and sign. But I am also asking the party to show that when necessary it is willing to stand up to the EU, and to coalition ministers who have chosen to play fast and loose with parliamentary process.

What the EU proposes and Westminster hasn’t been allowed to examine:

As well as forcing all e-cigarettes to become classified as medicinal products Europe-wide, the EU Tobacco Products Directive proposes:

  • A  ban on menthol and ‘slim’ cigarettes throughout Europe.
  • Larger health warnings on packs and pouches covering  75 per cent of the front and back.
  • Standardisation of cigarette pack size and shape
  • A ban on packs of ten cigarettes
  • A ban on all smaller pouches of roll your own tobacco

For more information on these proposals, visit “What’s at Stake” on the campaign website.

For additional reading on the Tobacco Products Directive see this article “A dog’s breakfast” by Clive Bates (former director of ASH (Action on Smoking and Health).

Angela Harbutt is Campaigns Manager for No Thank EU (www.NoThankEU.com), launched on July 29.

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Anna Soubry: A one woman walking disaster

By Editor
July 22nd, 2013 at 5:50 pm | Comments Off on Anna Soubry: A one woman walking disaster | Posted in EU, EU Politics, Europe, European Politics

Here’s a short (3 minute) video showing a few extracts from evidence Anna Soubry gave the HOC European Scrutiny Committee on 17 July 2013.

She was called to appear before the Committee because she went to the EU General Council of ministers on June 21st to agree the general approach on the EU Tobacco Products Directive. She did this, and negotiated the UK position having totally bypassed the statutory UK parliamentary processes.  That meant stifling any debate on ecigs in UK parliament. That is pretty serious. To then to appear confused (and wrong) about what she actually agreed on e-cigarettes is  truly astounding. Surely the UK must go back to the EU and say that Soubry has been sacked and the UK position on the Directive is yet to be decided.

If you are interested, you can see all of her evidence here.  It seems to confirm that this Directive has been rushed through solely on the grounds that some folks wanted to ensure it was done during the Irish presidency. Nice for the Irish President – looking for a personal legacy. Bad for everyone else.

 

 

 

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