Now that Brexit has happened, campaign slogans have to be turned into policy.
What Brexit means will be shaped by the trade deals the UK has with the EU and the rest of the world.
There are signs that our democracy, NHS, public services, food standards, climate, workers’ rights and more will be on the line as they become bargaining chips in negotiating a role for the UK among global trading blocs.
The UK’s Africa Investment Summit in which 90% of the energy deals struck were for investments in oil and gas, points to the locking in fossil fuel dependency in future trade and investment deals. In the Withdrawal Agreement, the government enshrined their right to lower labour law standards.
I love EU, I love EU not
The EU is the UK’s biggest trading partner, and last week both sides staked out their initial negotiating positions on a post-Brexit deal. The positions differed considerably. At the moment, both sides seem prepared to walk away while also both stating a preference for an ‘ambitious’ deal It’s difficult to distinguish posturing from policy.
The EU is keen to prevent the UK undercutting it on standards and regulations and from diverging from its state aid rules. The EU is also said to want to retain access to the UK’s waters for fishing. These two issues will both be sticking points for the UK as the government want to be seen to have regained sovereignty over the UK’s resources and not to be taking orders from Brussels.
Choosing to diverge from EU standards and regulations (which, EU leaders are insisting, is the only way that the UK can retain a degree of access to the single market but may result in the UK being a ‘rule-taker’) may pull the UK into closer alignment with the US’ regulatory standards. The size of the world’s trading blocs means that defining a set of regulations independent from those of existing global norm-setters could prove very difficult.
Whatever we think of Brexit, viewed from the South, EU policies do not reflect a ‘social Europe’: the Commission has been a global leader in promoting and enacting neoliberal free trade imperialism, while EU states have long led the push for ISDS. The EU has said that divergence from their model will come at a high price.
Ready to trade (away our rights, standards and services)
The UK is seeking to sell a ‘Global Britain’ further afield, and wants to strike a deal with the United States, as well as Australia, Japan and New Zealand. These countries want to wait and see what nature of the relationship between the UK and the EU is before they agree to anything.
Other deals that the UK was part of during EU membership – Economic Partnership Agreements with Southern countries – have been ‘rolled-over’. These include deals like that with Morocco, which, through its illegal occupation, benefits from the plunder of Western Sahara’s resources.
A US-UK deal has been touted by both sides as a priority post-Brexit. A trade deal with the US could spell disaster for the climate, as well as our food, labour, health and social standards. Corporate elites on both sides of the Atlantic see the deal as an opportunity to expand their power and wealth through provisions that were proposed and successfully defeated as part of the earlier TTIP deal.
- Chlorinated Chicken back on the menu: US corporates want to ‘shred’ our regulations on food and farming in order to expand the export market for US agribusiness. Boris Johnson for his part is trying to convince us that peer-reviewed scientific evidence about the dangers posed by chlorinated chicken is ‘mumbo jumbo’ (the science says different).
- NHS on the table: The US wants full market access for US businesses to the NHS, according to leaked US-UK trade talks papers and former UK Ambassador to the US Kim Darroch in The Guardian. US pharmaceutical companies want to extend their monopolies on drugs and prevent the NHS from negotiating on prices.
- The return of corporate courts: One of the key fights we face in the UK’s trade deals is the use of Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms being used by companies to sue Governments. (Read more about ISDS ‘corporate courts’). The dangers of this are very real – LSE research has shown that having ISDS in a deal with the US could result in the UK being sued under ISDS more than Canada – the country with the most ISDS cases against it in the world.
As the legal power to make trade deals moves from the EU to the UK government, the government is refusing to allow public scrutiny and democratic control. In January, the Withdrawal Agreement Bill passed into law (now the European Union Act 2020) without any amendments which would have included a role for parliament in scrutiny over trade deals.
Last year, War on Want supporters applied pressure on MPs and won some successful trade democracy amendments to the Trade Bill, which aimed to set out some provisions for trade post Brexit. Parliament may be expected to restart discussions on it soon.
Powerful interests fear public debate, claiming the issues are too technical and for experts only.
But when our future is being decided, we must demand transparency and democratic accountability. We cannot allow the business lobbyists to dictate the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU, but must work hard to push back against corporate power grabs masquerading as trade deals – and be heard by those in power.
Over the coming months, we will be asking you to join us in a trade campaign for climate justice, public services, food, health, rights and democracy.
Sign up to receive more detailed updates on trade and information about events and activism.