Henry Smith: Why marine protection can’t wait

8 Jun

Henry Smith is MP for Crawley. This is a sponsored post by Greenpeace.

Our environment is being degraded at an concerning rate, both on land and at sea. In the waters around our islands, destructive industrial fishing vessels spend thousands of hours each year operating in protected areas, damaging habitats, decimating fish populations and polluting our marine environment.

This is having a devastating, cumulative effect. Vital marine habitats like seagrass meadows, kelp forests and coral reefs are being damaged by bottom trawlers, while supertrawlers regularly descend onto UK waters to scoop up unimaginably vast quantities of marine life, harming the target fish populations, and undermining the entire marine ecosystem.

All of this is not only harming our oceans, it’s also harming our coastal communities and worsening the climate emergency facing all of us.

When bottom trawlers rip up patches of protected seabed, they aren’t only destroying important habitats, they’re also disturbing vast amounts of carbon which would otherwise be safely stored away in the seabed.

A recent landmark study in the journal Nature found that globally, carbon emissions from bottom trawling are equivalent to the carbon emissions of the entire global aviation industry. That’s a staggering statistic which gives you an idea of just how much carbon is potentially being released by bottom trawling. Estimated emissions from bottom trawling in UK waters are the fourth highest globally.

By delaying ocean protection, the UK government is jeopardising climate protection, but it’s not too late to change course. If we can properly protect our oceans from industrial fishing practices which are disturbing the vast carbon sinks that surround our islands, the oceans could become our best ally in the battle against climate change.

By properly protecting the waters around our islands, we can ensure that tens of millions of tonnes of carbon remain stored away safely in the seabed, and we can protect the natural processes which mean the oceans absorb excess carbon from the atmosphere remain intact and healthy, long into the future.

That’s why marine protection can’t wait. Every day that we delay, industrial fishing vessels continue to damage habitats and our “blue” carbon sinks.

Thankfully, our government has recognised that there is a problem, and has made a start towards remedying it. Plans are in motion to completely ban bottom trawling in two important protected areas, including the Dogger Bank, and partially ban bottom trawling in two further protected areas.

This is a good start, but the process has moved at too slow a pace. It’s been more than six months since the Government announced that it was considering new restrictions on bottom trawling in these protected areas, and still nothing has become a reality.

If the Government decides to follow this model across the entire network of protected areas, it could quite literally take years, if not decades, before all of the UK’s protected areas have adequate levels of protection from industrial fishing vessels. This would be fundamentally incompatible with the UK government’s own commitment to 30×30, 30 per cent of the world’s oceans being fully protected by 2030.

We simply cannot afford to wait that long.

However, there is a solution at hand, and one which this government has already used, but now seems to be ignoring – vessel licensing restrictions.

This power, provided for by the new post-Brexit Fisheries Act 2020, would allow us to outlaw the most destructive fishing vessels from our protected areas, by placing licence restrictions on them so they cannot operate in parts of UK waters that are supposed to be protected. This could also be used to ban fishing boats over a certain size, or over a certain capacity, from operating in protected areas, meaning it could also apply to supertrawlers.

This would speed up action significantly, and avoid the painfully slow process which the Dogger Bank bottom trawling restrictions are currently undergoing.

The scale of the problem is vast, almost all of our protected areas in offshore waters have no fishing restrictions in place, when they all should.

The good news is the Government is finally starting to recognise the problem. The next, and perhaps most important, step is to act with a sense of urgency that reflects the nature and climate emergencies now facing all of us, before it’s too late.

Fiona Nicholls: Marine Protected Areas help, not hinder, fishing communities

4 May

Fiona Nicholls is an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK. This is a sponsored post by Greenpeace UK.

You might be wondering what Marine Protected Areas mean for our fishers and coastal towns. Many of these communities are struggling, and have been for years. Catches are declining, jobs are disappearing, incomes are shrinking and communities are being gutted.

It would be right to ask whether banning various types of fishing in our Marine Protected Areas would just be another blow to our fishers and fishing communities, but once one looks into the science, it is clear that the answer is resoundingly no.

A robust, properly protected network of Marine Protected Areas would do quite the opposite – it would safeguard the health of our fishing communities, and our oceans, long into the future. It would boost catches for local fishers, in turn leading to bigger profits, providing a much-needed boost for our coastal towns.

The benefits of Marine Protected Areas for fishers and fish alike are well evidenced in the scientific literature.

When you protect large areas of ocean from high-intensity fishing operations, you provide fish stocks with space to recover and grow. This not only leads to increased quantities of fish within the protected areas, but it also leads to significant spillover benefits outside the protected area.

In fact, in places where effective Marine Protected Areas are there, fishers will deliberately fish along the borders of the protected area as they know these are the richest fishing grounds – a phenomenon known as “fishing the line”.

Additionally, as the female fish within the protected area grow older and larger, away from the pressure of industrial fishing, they will produce significantly more eggs which will boost the size of stocks both within and outside of the protected area.

So in fact, according to the science, Marine Protected Areas act as “reproduction factories”, not only protecting fish stocks, but boosting them both in and out of the protected area. This leads to larger catches, increased profits and more jobs. However, this only works if they are fully protected. Partial protection is no better than leaving areas fully open to exploitation, as demonstrated by this detailed study of Australian protected areas at sea.

If strongly protected Marine Protected Areas help fishing communities, instead of hindering them, you’d also be right to ask why some parts of the industry are so vehemently against them.

Well the answer is simple: profit.

The biggest companies in the industry don’t care about fishing communities, or the small scale fishers who make up the vast majority of British fishers and are the backbones of our coastal communities.

These companies, which operate large industrial boats, appear to care more about turning a profit around than safeguarding their industry in the long term.

This is particularly true when you consider supertrawlers operating in UK waters. These vast floating fish factories catch tens of thousands of tonnes of fish each year, and spend thousands of fishing hours operating inside areas that are supposed to be protected.

No supertrawlers are UK owned, and only one supertrawler occasionally lands its catch in the UK, despite all of them fishing frequently in our waters. They employ few, if any, local British fishers, and contribute next to nothing to the UK economy.

This Conservative government must see through the myopic complaints of small but vocal parts of the fishing industry. The Government should follow the science, and do what it needs to do to protect our fishers and their communities by properly protecting our Marine Protected Areas.

That means immediately banning supertrawlers and bottom trawlers from operating in the entire network. This will provide a vital boost to the UK’s fishing communities.

Doing nothing would be a death sentence for many of these communities. The Government keeps telling us that the UK is a world leader in marine conservation, and that wants to level up our coastal communities. Now is the time – and the opportunity – to put those words into action and get ocean protection done.

Chris Thorne: The perfect green Brexit dividend – properly protected seas

13 Apr

Chris Thorne is an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK. This is a sponsored post by Greenpeace UK.

Brexit is done, and the UK is now stepping out into the world on its own two feet. Brexit has divided opinions, no doubt, but the UK has left the European Union so we need to seize the opportunities presented to us to make Brexit a success.

Perhaps the biggest opportunity presented to us by Brexit is the chance to become a true world leader in protecting our seas.

For too long now, we have allowed the waters which surround our islands to be degraded by industrial fishing. This in large part was down to our membership of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, which made it challenging for the UK to implement stronger restrictions on industrial fishing in our seas, whether vessels hailed from the UK or the EU.

Supertrawlers, vast floating fish factories, regularly stalk our seas, hoovering up unimaginably vast quantities of fish with nets up to a mile long. No supertrawlers are UK owned. Bottom trawlers from the UK and EU rip up protected seabed habitats, undermining the entire marine ecosystem and indiscriminately killing marine life.

Bottom trawling also releases significant quantities of carbon that had been stored in seabed sediments, with a recent study in Nature finding that annually, emissions from bottom trawling are equivalent to emissions from the entire aviation industry. The UK has the fourth highest emissions from bottom trawling globally.

This degradation of our oceans by industrial fishing has serious consequences, not only for the marine environment, but also for our climate and, perhaps most importantly, for our fishing communities.

Simply put, if we allow high intensity industrial fishing to continue throughout our seas unchecked, it will become ever more difficult for our fishers to make a living from fishing. This isn’t Greenpeace sensationalism, this is the scientific consensus.

UK fishers today have to work 17 times as hard for the same size catches as 120 years ago because of industrial overfishing. Two thirds of the UK’s key fish stocks are overfished and severely depletedNorth Sea cod has lost its MSC certification because of dangerous stock declinesBritish mackerel lost its sustainable status in 2019 after overfishing pushed stocks to the brink of collapse. The list could go on and on.

This will have serious repercussions for our already struggling coastal communities. More and more fishing jobs will be lost, our fishing communities will be gutted, and for many of these communities, there will be no coming back.

Thankfully, there is a ready-made solution to hand, and one which this Conservative government has been instrumental in setting up – the UK’s network of Marine Protected Areas.

Set up over the last decade, the network covers more than 30 per cent of waters around the UK including many of our most sensitive and important marine areas such as reefs, seagrass meadows and kelp forests.

This sounds great, but there’s a catch…

The vast majority of these so-called protected areas at sea, particularly those in offshore waters, have no protections in place against the worst forms of industrial fishing. Supertrawlers and bottom trawlers are allowed to operate in these supposedly protected places with impunity, devastating fish stocks and damaging sensitive seabed habitats which underpin the marine ecosystem, releasing vast quantities of carbon from the seabed.

For example, 97 per cent of the offshore UK protected areas set up specifically to protect the seabed are still subject to bottom trawling. This method of fishing, which involves dragging heavy fishing gear along the seabed, is no different to a bulldozer ploughing through a protected forest on land. It degrades habitats, results in large quantities of bycatch and perhaps most concerningly, disturbs vital blue carbon stores on the seabed.

Supertrawlers can also be found in our protected areas. These high intensity fishing vessels are the largest on earth. They have freezer processor facilities on board, allowing them to stay at sea for weeks or months at a time, catching and processing hundreds of tonnes of fish in a day until their holds are filled with thousands of tonnes of fish. This harms the long-term health of fish stocks and has wider impacts on the marine ecosystem.

Most people would agree that these forms of destructive fishing have no place in areas that are supposed to be protected. However, our investigations have revealed that supertrawlers have doubled their fishing time in UK protected areas year on year since 2016, when the UK voted for Brexit, and earlier in 2021 it was revealed that in 2019 bottom trawlers spent hundreds of thousands of hours fishing in UK protected areas.

It seems that the Government agrees that bottom trawling is not compatible with our Marine Protected Areas, judging by its proposals to close the entire Dogger Bank Special Area of Conservation to bottom trawling, along with one other protected area. This signals that it recognises the problem, and we hope this is the Government’s first step towards turning our network of Marine Protected Areas into a genuinely world-leading conservation programme. However, there’s still a long way to go.

In many ways, the hard bit is already done. The UK has already designated over 30 per cent of our seas as protected, now all it needs to do is step up and properly look after each protected area, beginning with restricting the most destructive fishing operations inside them.

This will protect habitats, boost fish populations and revive coastal communities as fish populations become larger and more healthy, leading to bigger catches for our fishers. It will help keep carbon stored away safely in deep sea blue carbon stores, and it can provide the UK with an almost immediate Brexit win which will deliver real environmental protection.

In a year when the UK is hosting the G7 and the vital Glasgow climate summit, we should be presenting to the world a positive vision of global Britain as a world leader in environmental protection. What better way of doing this than properly protecting our seas?

Jamie Green: Now that Brexit has finally happened, Scotland’s ambitions must stretch beyond Europe

12 Jan

Jamie Green is Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education and an MSP for West Scotland.

They say that January is a time for renewal, new starts and new resolutions. After the 2020 we’ve just had, that message of renewal is more important than ever, but I can think of nobody in greater need of wiping the slate clean and replacing the broken record than our very own First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

I appreciate that it’s difficult for a veteran politician of 30 years to find somewhere to start fresh, but I might gently suggest to the First Minister that she embraces 2021 with a more positive vision of what Scotland can achieve going forward. Instead of endless re-running of votes and arguments, all of which she sadly lost, the leader of Scotland’s government needs to embrace the reality of the new world we are in.

“A No Deal Brexit would be a catastrophic outcome for Scotland” – she proclaimed, before ordering her MPs to vote for one in the closing days of 2020. To her, Brexit has always been an emotive weapon used to stir up division and further her grievance with the UK government. But also one of absolute hypocrisy and paradoxical ironies.

She would happily drive our fishermen and their fish straight back into the murky seas of the Common Fisheries Policy, and she would herd our farmers back behind the fences of the Common Agricultural Policy, if it meant achieving her lifelong political mission of Scottish separation, at the expense of everyone and everything else. Her swansong perhaps, at any cost.

Just last weekend, her own deputy labelled a second independence referendum “an essential priority” without a hint of irony, apparently unaware of the global pandemic and the mounting Coronavirus death toll in Scotland.

The truth is that she must be spitting nails at the UK’s orderly managed exit, because the SNP calculated it had more to gain by pushing for a chaotic departure rather than acting in the national interest. The truth is that the SNP was desperate for the final week of 2020 to be marked with disruption and for 2021 to begin with the very No Deal exit from EU transition that it had spent years condemning with the might of a pulpit preacher.

They talked of the cliff edge ad-infinitum, only to then vote for one when it came to the actual crunch: do as I say, not as I do.

Now that Brexit has finally happened, and we have actually left the EU, how on earth can Scotland be reassured that their First Minister will embrace the New Year and the opportunities that awaits us with the zeitgeist it merits? The problem for Scotland is that she won’t.

If only her separatist government put such effort into its domestic policy as it does its interest in repealing referenda, perhaps we wouldn’t have seen the demise of our world-class education, our judicial system or the seemingly perpetual decline of our economy under the reigns of the nationalist government in St. Andrew’s House in Edinburgh.

When you think about it, the only people who should be afraid of the new freedoms we have outside the EU, is the SNP. With more powers devolved to these islands, they might simply now have to deliver for Scotland rather than just pointing the finger at Westminster when things go wrong.

The bogeyman is neither Europe nor London. The power and responsibility lie firmly in Edinburgh. Be it agricultural policy, or fishing infrastructure. Be it environmental ambition or investment in infrastructure – the Scottish Government has much to account for and much to deliver.

The stark reality facing all governments is to make sure that Brexit actually works for everybody in Scotland, not just those who voted for it. Instead of listening to what Scotland can’t do without Brussels, I want our government to start talking about the opportunities on our doorstep. Our global ambition, if you like.

What about a study abroad scheme with Australia? A financial services agreement with the US, so firms in Edinburgh can have unfettered access to the multi trillion-dollar market in New York? Scotland will always be a close partner and ally of Europe, but our ambitions must stretch beyond the continent of the political union we have just taken leave of if we are to succeed.

Nobody is saying that things will be easy, but ambition is core to success.

We begin 2021 with a new deal, a new relationship, and a new future, which does require some patience I admit. But waiting is not a quality that Sturgeon can rely on, because the political life expectancy of SNP leaders who lose referendums is very limited, and she has been on the losing side of every referendum she has ever campaigned on.

Unlike the First Minister, I believe that Scotland can truly thrive outside of the constraints of Brussels. I want those powers of the Brexit bounty repatriated to these shores, so that every corner of the UK can take advantage of a global UK. The deal thrashed out with the EU, and accepted by both sides, means Scotland will succeed by not only having tariff-free access the European Single Market, but by allowing us to benefit from new free trading arrangements with economic giants such as the US, India, Japan, and Canada. Our whisky, our salmon, our smokies: a global market for a truly global Scotland.

It now just needs a First Minister with the resolution, a new found one if you will, to work with and not against the grain and make a success of our renewed place in the world.

Simon Richards: Almost 15 years ago, I helped to set up Better Off Out. This deal isn’t perfect – but it delivers what we campaigned for.

28 Dec

Simon Richards was CEO of The Freedom Association until June 2020, and a co-founder of the Better Off Out campaign in 2006. He is now working on plans to help promote the record and reputation of Margaret Thatcher.

Three o’clock in the afternoon still has a resonance for the millions who follow football more than I do – not least on a Boxing Day Bank Holiday. For me, it is a sacred time on just two days of the year: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

So I was incandescent when, following a ridiculously lengthy delay even by his own standards, Boris Johnson’s press conference clashed with that immovable highlight of Christmas Eve, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge.

It could have been even worse: had he held it at the same time the following day, he might have found himself even lower down the Queen’s Christmas card list than Tony Blair. To add insult to injury, the Prime Minister apologised, not for clashing with the world’s best-loved carol service, but for ‘disturbing Cars Three’, an American computer-animated film which, it transpired, he had not actually interrupted at all.

A far more substantial objection to Johnson’s deal is that its timing allows Parliament just a single day to debate it. How convenient for the Government! So the truth is that, whatever you or I might think of it, this deal is, if you will pardon my French, a fait accompli – an accomplished fact; a done deal.

Call it what you will, nothing is going to stop it now. Even were there adequate time to discuss this massive document, Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition, true to form, would provide no opposition at all. That, as usual, is left to those Conservative Party backbenchers who, from the fight over the Maastricht Treaty onwards, have served as an awkward squad, carrying out, without official recognition or pay, the work that the Labour Party has long neglected even to attempt to do.

Are important aspects of this deal unsatisfactory for the United Kingdom? Of course they are! There is no doubt that the UK made considerable concessions on fishing, but the key issue, of sovereignty over British waters, was upheld. Given the immense damage that the EU and its Common Fisheries Policy have done to the British fishing industry, it will be years before our fishermen are in a position to take full advantage of regaining control over our waters, so it was a sensible move by Lord Frost and the Government to give ground (or should that be water?) in that area.

After all, in any negotiation there have to be areas where concessions must be made. The important question is “will our fishing industry be in a better position than before?” and the answer to that can only be “yes” – granted that it would be difficult to worsen its current state.

If the Labour Party’s ‘thin deal’ criticisms of the deal are feeble, then the SNP’s attack on the fishing deal elevates political dishonesty to a new level even by its own standards. It has never stood up for Scotland’s fishing industry and its policy of independence, accompanied by an application to join the EU, could only be achieved by sacrificing that industry once again.

The truth is that the Prime Minister’s deal has shot Sturgeon’s fox, or, as one ought perhaps to say around Boxing Day, clubbed it to death. Nothing that Johnson came back with from Brussels was ever going to meet with the approval of Ian Blackford, Scotland’s very own Mr Potato Head himself. His cry of, ‘the potato-seed industry, the potato-seed industry, my kingdom for the potato-seed industry’ is hardly likely to match William Wallace as a call to battle.

There isn’t room here to go into all the arrangements covered in this vast set of agreements. Others such as Bill Cash, Martin Howe and Lee Rotherham are better able to do that than I am – and I trust their judgement. Not only can no deal be perfect, but we should not seek such perfection. For a deal of this nature to be successful – and to stick – it needs broadly to satisfy both sides. If it only satisfies one, it will be unacceptable to the other.

Bismarck was wise enough to realise that he had been wrong to agree to Prussia grabbing Alsace and Lorraine from France in the Treaty of Frankfurt in 1871. It ensured that France was consumed by a desire for revenge, which led inexorably to two world wars. A deafening cacophony of claims from the EU side that it had got the better of the Brits was only to be expected, but, save for the inevitable French Government minister or two with an eye to bolstering Emmanuel Macron’s popularity, such claims have been conspicuous by their absence.

Similarly, on this side of the Channel, screams of betrayal from Brexiteers have been more like squeaks. Back in 2006, along with Mark Wallace of this parish and others, I helped set up the Better Off Out campaign, to promote the case that the UK would indeed be Better Off Out of the EU.

Had you asked me then whether I would have regarded the terms of this Christmas Eve Agreement as acceptable, I would have replied, in the style of the last British Prime Minister successfully to defend British interests in Europe, ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ It was good to hear the Prime Minister cite Margaret Thatcher’s famous Bruges speech as an inspiration and a turning point. She set out an updated version of De Gaulle’s ‘Europe of Nations’. The EU would have been well advised to have taken heed of her advice, but chose to plough on regardless with its project of a United States of Europe.

Later, forcing through the Maastricht Treaty, John Major, who has been uncharacteristically quiet in recent days, took to the mantra that Britain was ‘at the heart of Europe’. Only somebody ignorant of both geography and history could have insisted on such an obvious falsehood.

The agreement that Johnson has obtained rights the wrongs inflicted by Major and a succession of Europhile Prime Ministers. It restores to the United Kingdom the freedom and independence that made it great, retaining its close and friendly links with its friends and neighbours on the continent whilst re-establishing its worldwide vision. I started by mentioning football.

To conclude, were this a football match it would have been 3-0 to the EU at half-time, with three own goals scored by Theresa May and her hapless team. David Frost has been Britain’s champion, achieving a great result for his country against all the odds, with a good deal of British pluck. Now it only remains for one injustice to be put to right: Boris, please give Nigel Farage the knighthood that he deserves.

Why fishing has always been a bigger part of Brexit than its cash value would suggest

22 Dec

This morning’s media reports suggested that the Government was inching towards a compromising on fishing which might finally ‘unlock’ the negotiations with the European Union and avoid a no-deal Brexit in January.

According to Raoul Ruparel, a former special advisor at the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU), this involved rowing back on the scale of the reduction in the fishing quote they’re seeking, the implementation of a ‘transition period’, and setting up an ‘independent arbitration panel’, as well as a break clause.

Whilst this does involve a climbdown on Boris Johnson’s part, Ruparel suggests it would still be a good deal for the British fishing industry, increasing their share of the catch in UK waters by a share “worth between €140m-€200m” whilst also protecting the ~€100m worth British vessels currently catch in EU waters: in all “a significant gain in the value of fish caught by UK vessels and indeed no loss from now”. Which might be why this afternoon’s media reports brought word that Brussels had rejected it.

There may yet be a breakthrough. Both sides are under pressure to compromise, the Times reports, over fears that the entire free trade agreement is being jeopardised by a dispute over something worth less than €100 million. But as it stands the Government may well choose a no-deal exit rather than back down. Why?

Certainly there is no shortage of British commentators vocally baffled by the weight that the Prime Minister has given to fishing in the negotiations, and keen to point out that the industry’s contribution to the national economy is less than that of individual companies such as Harrods or Games Workshop. But it’s easy to take a high-minded view about that’s best for the economy overall when you live in a region or work in a sector that’s feeling the benefits.

Like mining a generation before, fishing has become totemic because its fate captures how certain communities have been ‘left behind’, as Johnson might put it, by the direction of UK economic policy during our EU membership. The rejoinder to the smart-alec statistics is that the small size of today’s industry is not lost on Brexit-backing coastal communities: but it is viewed as a problem, not just a fact.

And just as the referendum itself gave a section of the British public a rare and very unwelcome taste of being on the losing side, so too has the Government’s emphasis on fish been an overdue induction into how it feels when national policy is set by someone else’s priorities.

(There is also a wearisome double-standard at work when the very people who decried ministers’ preparedness to ‘break international law’ via the UK Internal Market Bill also decry their plans to uphold international law by policing British fishing waters in the event of no deal.)

From the moment Bob Geldof flipped v-signs at fishermen on the Thames, if not before, this issue became a bigger part of Brexit than its cash value would suggest. Johnson surely knows that getting a good deal for coastal communities – not least in Scotland – is an acid test not just for them, but for a substantial share of the new electoral coalition he’s built on the expectation that Brexit signalled a shift in the nation’s priorities.

John Redwood: Why we would be better off with No Deal

14 Dec

Sir John Redwood is MP for Wokingham, and is a former Secretary of State for Wales.

No Deal would be a good outcome for the UK. It would mean that we take back control of our borders, our money, our laws and our fish, as promised by the Leave campaign. The deals on offer from the EU fall well short of improving on No Deal.

It wants to continue overfishing our seas with its huge industrial trawlers. It wants to control our law making in all areas related in any way to business and trade. It wants its court to adjudicate disputes between us – in a clear violation of usual international practice, in which an impartial arbitrator is used, or the two sides need to argue matters through to agreement. Its every word and action signals that it does not wish to accept the fact that we have voted to be an independent country, and intend to be one.

When Theresa May with senior civil servants foolishly sought to recreate many of the features of our EU membership under the cover of a so-called comprehensive partnership, the EU made it impossible for her. If we just wanted a free trade agreement like Canada or Japan, that seemed to be on offer.

Once a new UK government offered to do just, that the EU decided to impede and prevent it, and to pretend the UK still really wanted special access to the Single Market which in turn required subservience to its laws.

There was little good faith in trying to implement the Political Agreement by the EU, given that it said that a free trade agreement would lie at the heart of a new relationship between the EU and the UK. The EU has always behaved with discipline and severity in its negotiating stance, assuming that it can have its cake and eat it. It has repeated its mantra that you cannot have access to the Single Market without accepting many limitations on your freedoms.

This of course is simply not true for the rest of the world, which trades with the EU without having to obey its laws. In every other case, the EU accepts mutual respect for World Trade Organisation rules. The EU as a member of the WTO accepts its disputes resolution. The EU has a history of some violations of WTO rules with penalties – as with subsidies to Airbus.

I was asked to give many speeches during the EU referendum campaign to business audiences. I always said No Deal was the only outcome we could guarantee. It was an outcome which would give a good answer for the UK, achieving all our aims to be independent. On the past economic evidence, I expected a No Deal Brexit to offer us a small boost to GDP if we used the new freedoms well.

I used to go on to say it would be very easy – if there was political will – to add a free trade agreement on top of No deal, which would be beneficial to both sides. In most free trade deals, there are delays and problems with each side wishing to defend a tariff here and a non-tariff barrier there.

In the case of the UK and EU, we start from a position where there are no tariffs and no untowards barriers to goods trade, so it would just be a question of rolling over what we have.  I also sometimes added that some thought the EU would not behave well or want to do that.

In that event, surely it shows how right we are to leave if our EU neighbours, friends and allies behave in such a silly way towards us, to the point of hurting their own access to our own lucrative market. To the EU, the UK has indeed been Treasure Island. It has taken large payments from us in the form of our net contributions to the EU, and has ru a huge surplus on goods and food trade through tariff-free entry.

The Prime Minister has been clear and right in saying we will leave the Single Market and Customs Union. We want our own international trade policy, and will be a more powerful and consistent voice for freer trade than the EU. To do this, we need to have full control of all matters relating to trade and business.

The Single Market has been damaging to the UK overall. In our first decade in the Common Market, as it was then erroneously called, we lost half our motor manufacturing capacity as tariffs were removed. Over the years, we have seen the loss of most of our steel industry and aluminium output, serial damage to textile and ceramic manufacture, the mass closure of foundries and the break up and contraction of our chemical industry.  Our market share in temperate food production has fallen sharply, and we have gone from being a net exporter of fish to a shrunken industry, with consumers reliant on imports for much of our demand.

EU grants and subsidies have bid some business investment away from the UK. EU rules have often been based around the needs and methods of large-scale continental producers at the expense of our firms. The EU has failed to negotiate trade deals at all with two of our largest trading partners, the USA and China, and has not bothered about proper service sector access in other deals, despite the UK’s strong position in many service areas.

Our average growth rate was faster before entry into the Common Market post-war than during the years of Common market membership, which in turn was faster than our average growth rate in the years which followed 1992 and the so-called completion of the Single Market.

The UK establishment has never been willing to analyse the data and understand what was truly happening. It visited upon us the disaster of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, whose predictable impact caused a major recession at the very point there was meant to be a boost from completing the Single Market.

So how can now use our freedoms as we leave with No Deal, assuming there is no last-minute wish to be sensible by the EU and agree a free trade deal?   We should be up and running with tax cuts – at last, we can take VAT off all those green products from insulation to boiler controls the EU insists on.

We can lift tariffs from South African oranges and other tropical fruit and food that we cannot grow for ourselves. We should pursue our offer to the USA of removing EU retaliatory tariffs on its goods if it will drop their tariff on Scotch whisky, which was an unwelcome hit from an EU trade spat.

We should set up freeports and enterprise zones to marshal new investment and make more in the UK. We should reorient farm subsidies to slash the food miles, and grow more of our own salads, fruits,and vegetables. We should land more of our fish at home, and add fish processing to create meals and products that we want to eat or which we can export.

We should put in more electricity capacity, and end our growing dependence on imported EU power. As the Government encourages the planting of many more trees, we should ensure more sustainable forestry to cut the massive timber imports.

These are all good economic reasons to press for the No Deal Brexit. The best reason of all is to be free, living in an independent country. I want to help pass on a country that is self-governing – a beacon for democracy.  Brexit means taking back control of our laws, our borders and our money. That way we will be better governed. If any given government lets us down we can sack it, and get the answer we want from another. That is something we can never do as members of the  EU. They give us the laws and we do not control the government.

Richard Holden: The Government must hold firm and stay on course as the Commons returns this week

31 Aug

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

The Baa, Edmundbyers, Co Durham

In Edmundbyers they came en masse – well, en masse for a small village. It was the 30th or so stop out of 50 on my constituency summer surgery tour of the communities of North West Durham. Fifteen or so constituents were gathered, questions and comments at the ready, on village green.

As at other stops, some came to raise specific local issues. Some came to mention national policy. Many just came to meet their MP; put a face to the name, or to get the measure of someone they sometimes see on local telly or in the paper, who they elected last year. And, of course, many constituents just wanted to get a couple of things off their chest.

The interactions reminded me of visiting The Grey Horse, Consett for my “ask the candidate” session back in November. That “ask the candidate” was an interesting event because I came under very heavy questioning from the start.

What I learnt from the interrogation I got then, aside from a couple of Labour activists who’d been sent along, was that the toughness wasn’t really directed at me; I was just the person stood there who was taking years of pent up frustration. A deep frustration that came from years of resentment, not with me or even the Conservative Party, but with politics generally; at not having had any opportunity to speak to and question their elected representatives, or those seeking election, before.

This was rammed home time and again on my summer tour and, perhaps more tellingly still, when I attended a parish council meeting and was informed by those present, including by a Parish Councillor who’d been on for the best part of half a century, that no previous MP had ever reached out them, let alone attended one of their council meetings.

In many of the villages I visited in the last fortnight people said things like “I’ve never seen or heard of my councillor, never mind my MP in my village before.” Speaking to so many people in my constituency over the summer has reminded me of the deep sense of detachment many have felt from those they elected to represent them over many years, but also the impact an active local MP or councillor can make to people’s feeling of dislocation.

That initial reaction, as I found at The Grey Horse, is just that – a reaction. It’s the first thing that happens when presented with someone who you’re then able to ask a question of. What it isn’t is a response to you or a guide in any way to how people might vote or how they necessarily really feel.

I learnt several weeks after my grilling at The Grey Horse that people had been impressed by my clarity, honesty and the fact that I’d turned up in a heavily Labour part of my constituency without a massive entourage; that I had stood my ground and given as good, if not better, than I’d got. In fact, a good number of those present had their vote tipped in my direction on the strength of that session when compared with the other candidates they saw.

As MPs leave their constituencies at the end of the summer recess and head back to Parliament, it will serve us well to remember the difference between the initial reaction and the response, especially to those who seek to discern what the public want from polling them.

There is frustration out there at everything relating to the global Coronavirus pandemic. There is an acknowledgment that the support the Government has provided to the economy has been substantial and will need to be paid for. There is still, rightly, a lot of fear out there about the virus, but also a desire that we don’t let it unnecessarily continue to impinge on our lives more than is necessary.

The next few months in politics in the run up to Christmas and though the new year are going to be challenging. There are major issues on the table. Our future relationship with the EU negotiations, which are likely to go down to the wire. There are also multiple complex international trade negotiations with Japan, the US, Australia and others.

There’ll be a very difficult budget for our Chancellor. And a Fisheries Bill that’ll set out our post-EU fishing regime as well as other contentious legislation. These will all be set in the context of the ongoing impact of the global Coronavirus pandemic on jobs and the economy.

Internationally, the situation with China and Russia is increasingly charged. The United States faces what is set to be a potentially both bruising and close Presidential election. Even normally calm Japan, an increasingly crucial international partner and ally, is in the midst of a change, following the departure of their respected Prime Minister.

As all these things play-out, we Conservatives must not get distracted too by the initial reaction because things will be choppy. We’re in a political battle for the long-term future of our country. What’s important is the leadership we show as we look to where we want the country to be in the years ahead. In early 2016, who’d have imagined we’d be where we are now? In fact, at the general election eight months ago who’d have imagined we’d be where we are now?

What we’re crafting together in Parliament is a response to the question at the next general election: “who do you want to be governing the country for the next four or five years?” to the people in The Grey Horse in Consett and on the village green at Edmundbyers. There are many staging posts as we slowly make our way there, and through the first anniversary of the general election.

In the tumult of the next few months, the adage that a week is a long time in politics will be seen again to be all too true, but we’ve got to hold firm to delivering a very clear response to the only question that matters – one that will be answered way down the line in the ballot box.

Roderick Crawford: Almost halfway through July, there is still no sign that a trade deal with the EU is possible – never mind probable.

13 Jul

Roderick Crawford works on conflict resolution in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan and Iraq, and on Brexit-related matters. He is a former editor of Parliamentary Brief.

We are approaching the moment of truth in the negotiations on the future relationship. In February, in the command paper on its approach to these negotiations, the Government set out the high-level meeting in June as the point when it hoped the broad outlines of a deal would be clear.

Covid-19 intervened. But at that meeting last month, the Prime Minister said he saw no reason why ‘a deal’ could not be done in July, giving businesses certainty about the post-transition regime. Accelerated talks were begun to break the deadlock.

Almost halfway through July, there is still no sign that a deal is possible – never mind probable. At the end of the restricted talks earlier this month, and again after the London discussions ended last Thursday, Michel Barnier reported that ‘serious divergences remain’.

David Frost’s assessment at the end of the third round of talks in mid-May was that ‘we made very little progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues between us’; at the close of the fourth round in early June he reported that ‘progress remained limited’; in July, hhe stated that the talks ‘underlined the significant differences that still remain between us on a number of important issues’ — he made no statement at all at the end of last week’s discussions.

To see how great these differences are you only need to look at the draft agreements published in March by both parties. These set out very different visions of the future relationship; the EU set out a draft for a New Partnership with the United Kingdom; the UK set out a draft text for a Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with supplementary agreements on other matters — justice, fishing, etc, but strictly no institutional framework for foreign policy and defence.

The partnership as set out by the EU is not one between equals: its conditional values, its governance structure, the role for EU rules and the Court of Justice, as well as the assumptions and tone it takes across the draft document represents an attempt to hold the UK within an institutional framework set by Brussels, for Brussels. The EU is, perhaps, blind to some of this.

The UK just will not accept such a partnership – one that it does not want cannot be forced on the UK. Yet this remains a point of significant difference between the parties. The EU has scope in the Political Declaration to opt for alternative institutional arrangements along lines the UK could accept at little cost to itself.

So on to the comprehensive free trade agreement that is the core of the future relationship. The two parties are at odds on the level playing field, and their red lines clash head on. The EU insists there can be no agreement on a free trade agreement without robust guarantees on a level playing field – the language of the political declaration; it has been clear about this since the European Council guidelines on these current negotiations were set out in March 2018.

The UK insists that the UK must have control over its own laws – that was the point of Brexit – and that it cannot be required to remain aligned with EU law; such a requirement, after all, is not usual in free trade agreements.

The question is: can these apparently irreconcilable positions be reconciled? They might be. Could limited but core ‘common high standards’ – the wording in the political declaration – be agreed, that provide sufficient robustness to the level playing field for the EU but which do not significantly restrict the UK’s freedom to diverge from standards originally set out in EU regulations?

These core ‘common standards’ could be extracted from and entirely de-coupled from EU law – and thus ensure there is no role for the Court of Justice – and be included in an annex of the FTA; they should only include standards that significantly affect competition, a small subset of the regulations applying in any area of the level playing field.

Robust guarantees do not need to be comprehensive. They can provide the pillars of the level playing field structure with the rest filled in by commitments along other lines. These could be similar to those suggested by the UK, including on taxation as it relates to competition, or by other arrangements like equivalence or mutual recognition. This would be a mixed economy, bridging the gap between UK and EU positions with both parties making compromises.

As to enforcement, an agreed set of core standards could be backed up with a dispute mechanism operating within the agreement – again, no role for the Court of Justice; this could be complemented by unilateral rights to action to guard against substantial undermining of standards by one party.

If the next round of negotiations included a focus on identifying such a set of core standards, to provide sufficient robustness for the EU while not limiting UK political freedom in any meaningful way, a satisfactory solution might present itself to both parties.

A fishing agreement would still need to be put in place. Perhaps flexibility over annual quotas would help – do we really want to negotiate annually? We are not Norway – fish is not that important to us economically nor does it affect anywhere near so many of our communities. A better deal for UK fishermen, a better deal for the marine environment and an improved basis for the policy there should be, but regard for neighbouring fishing communities too.

We are clearly a long way from bridging the differences between the two parties at present; without concessions from both sides, there won’t be an agreement. For many, WTO terms are good enough for trade and the compromises required for a deal are politically unacceptable.

However, the Government has said we can get a deal. If we can agree the mutual compromises on the level playing field to secure a workable comprehensive free trade agreement, re-set the spirit of the agreement as one between sovereign equals (which is what is required for it to work), and agree an architecture for the FTA and supplementary agreements along lines preferred by the UK, then we would have a deal truly worth making. Time is, however, running out.