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No Deal Brexit will devastate our food, farming and landscape’: farmer & MEP Phil Bennion

Arable farmer and West Midlands Lib Dem MEP Phil Bennion spoke out at a ‘Brexitime’ question and answer session with local farmers in Stratford-upon-Avon on August 6th. 

He said that a particular threat to farming came from the Agriculture Bill which plans to abandon the Single Farm Payment system as used under the CAP, with nothing to replace it. “There are no ifs and buts, the basic payments scheme will be phased out. Michael Gove’s idea was to replace it with extra environmental schemes but he clearly had not read WTO rules. It is very clear that under WTO rules environmental schemes need to compensate for direct costs only, they cannot provide any income.

“If we have no income support. which this draft bill says. while the Americans are getting it, the Europeans are getting it, pretty well all our competitors are getting it, there is absolutely no way we can make farming pay. 

“Emergency funding is within WTO rules – but under the rules you can’t carry on giving emergency funding forever. The Americans are doing this at the moment. Our (Lib Dem) policy keeps a basic payment scheme whether we leave the EU or not. A basic payment scheme is one of the only ways of supporting farm incomes within WTO rules.”

“There is likely to be a lot of land abandonment. Most of the farmland round here, the field sizes are not suitable for agribusiness arable farming and unless the regulations on clearing hedges and cutting trees down are scrapped, I can’t see that changing.”

Former NFU chief economist Sean Rickards, also a panellist at the event, gave a bleak assessment of the effect of the post Brexit trading environment on UK farming: “The government has already made it clear that (after Brexit) they are going to let the rest of the world in without tariffs and large sections of British agriculture couldn’t compete. Beef and sheep sectors will shrink quite severely, horticulture will struggle with labour issues and therefore the only sectors that will continue will be arable farms on an increasing scale to compete.

“The character will change, the size will change and the structure will change. It will be a smaller industry operating on an industrial scale and the remoter parts of the country will see farming almost wiped out.”

The panellists predicted that No Deal due to happen on October 31st would lead to the collapse of the sheep and beef sectors in particular, with prairie style arable agribusiness likely to be the only sector to survive, providing fields were huge without hedgerows. Phil Bennion said: “We export nearly 40% of the lamb we produce, and up to 96% of that goes to the EU. The tariffs under no deal would render this trade non-viable.

“Our lamb, Welsh lamb and English lamb is a premium product eaten fresh over a season, so there has not been a need to cold store it. It is eaten not just here but in France and all over Europe. New Zealand lamb fills our close season. With our lambs coming to market in the autumn it is inevitable that prices will crash if the EU market is closed off. There is nowhere to cold store it to stop this from happening. I believe the trade will collapse, yes, to a fraction of its current size. There will be a lot of mutton around and domestic prices will slump. Farmers won’t be able to get rid of enough of it to stop a price crash.”

After the meeting Phil said it was important to debunk the claims made by the Brexit Party and many Tory MPs that under GATT Article 24 we could just carry on trading with the EU as before.

“This myth keeps being repeated without being challenged. The fact is that the EU cannot choose under WTO rules whether or not to impose tariffs on our exports to ‘punish’ the UK, it has to impose them. It would also be illegal under WTO rules for the UK government to pay the tariffs to bail the farmers out.

“It is a disaster. If Boris does what he is threatening and refuses to go if he loses a vote of no confidence then I think we should walk into Parliament and tell him to go.”

A streamed recording of the whole meeting can be found (temporarily 90 degrees on its side!) here:  https://www.facebook.com/stratford4europe/videos/1054525424743135?s=644926487&v=e&sfns=xmo

 

 

 

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What is the truth about the state of England’s rivers?

 

Despite evidence from at least eight sources, the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency says “It’s wrong to suggest that the state of England’s rivers is poor”

The Financial Times recently reported that only 14% of rivers in England met the minimum “good status” standards as defined by the EU Water Framework directive according to an Environment Agency report in 2018. In 2009 almost 25% did so. Water quality has deteriorated since 2010 when the Environment Agency handed responsibility for pollution monitoring to the nine large water and sewage companies in England.

Evidence supporting their report comes from the World Wildlife Fund, Windrush rivers campaign, Fish Legal, Marine Conservancy, European Environment Agency, NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Sewage Free Seas. It was quoted in England’s rivers: toxic cocktail of chemicals, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and untreated waste.

Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, replied in a letter to the FT, “It’s wrong to suggest that the state of England’s rivers is poor (“Blighted by pollution”, The Big Read, June 13)”. He continued:

Water quality is now better than at any time since the Industrial Revolution thanks to tougher regulation and years of hard work by the Environment Agency and others.

Rivers that were so polluted that they were severely biologically damaged two decades ago are now thriving with wildlife such as otters, dippers and mayflies returning.

Over the past 20 years EA teams have taken more than 50m samples to monitor water quality around the country. The EU’s water framework directive means that the failure of one test can prevent a river from achieving good ecological status overall but this often does not tell the whole story.

During the last round of testing, 76 per cent of the tests used to measure the health of rivers were rated as good, and last year 98 per cent of bathing waters at 420 locations passed tough quality standards, compared with less than a third in the 1990s.

The EA has also required water companies to install new monitoring systems on combined sewer overflows (CSOs). By March next year more than 11,500 CSOs will be monitored as the first phase of this work is completed

It is not true that the EA simply relies on the water companies to tell us what they are discharging into watercourses. We carry out our own monitoring of rivers to ensure we have independent evidence and we regularly inspect water treatment plants and sewage works. If companies are failing to abide by the law or the terms of their permits we will take action to ensure that they do, up to and including prosecution.

Since 1990, the water industry has invested almost £28bn in environmental improvement work, much of it to improve water quality. I agree that there are still too many serious pollution incidents and we have called for tougher penalties for water companies where they are shown to be at fault.

In the past three years we have brought 31 prosecutions against water companies, resulting in more than £30m in fines, and we will continue, alongside the other water regulators, to act to ensure that people, wildlife and the environment are protected.

The agencies quoted are unconvinced and the FT asked earlier this month: Can England’s water companies clean up its dirty rivers?

It noted that the concerns over river pollution come at a time when the water industry is under fire for paying executives and shareholders lucrative rewards while raising customer bills and failing to stem leakage and ended: “The failures mean that three decades after the regional state-run monopolies were handed to private companies free of debt, and with a £1.5bn grant to invest in environmental improvements, the Labour party is calling for renationalisation of the water companies that are now saddled with debt of £51bn”.


Since this article was written, Southern Water — supplier to Kent, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Sussex — has been required to pay what amounts to a £126m penalty over five years for letting untreated waste leak into rivers between 2010 and 2017, and trying to hide what happened.

 

 

 

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Just A Little Respect – 2018

I have treated the EU with nothing but respect claimed Theresa May last week. Steve Beauchampé thinks otherwise. 

Added to Political Barbs: https://politicalcleanup.wordpress.com/political-barbs/just-a-little-respect-2018/

 

 

 

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Credit card charges: the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

The whole unspun truth is given briefly in the FT: “a ban on charges for paying via credit or debit card comes into force across the EU from Saturday, making it unlawful for retailers to charge customers additional fees for paying on plastic”.

Though the whole truth is too tall an order in matters of diplomacy, the government wold have been well advised to emulate the FT’s delivery.

No longer confined to the mainstream media, adventures with the truth are mercilessly mocked on social media and more radical media:

See Steve Walker’s shot of the official Conservative Twitter site:

The Independent’s gentler account quotes British MEPs who criticised the Government for claiming responsibility for the move, “which comes as part of a broad range of new payment regulations based on an EU–wide directive that was spearheaded by left-wing politicians in the European Parliament”.

We expect a jaded public response to this ‘business as usual’ spin. No longer has financial or political dishonesty the power to surprise.

May the British public one day routinely hear the truth – or would that be electoral suicide?

 

 

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Murdoch press lists corporate spending on political and lobbying activities

Times journalists Alex Ralph, and Harry Wilson present and comment on material collected by the Times Data Team: Tom Wills, Ryan Watts, Kira Schacht. Links have been added by PCU’s editor to enable readers to learn more if they wish to do so.

“FTSE 100 groups, including banks, defence contractors, tobacco manufacturers and telecoms companies, have spent more than £24 million on lobbying in Brussels and about £335,000 funding all-party parliamentary groups in Westminster”.

They add: “There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing or rule-breaking by companies”.

FTSE 100 political spending (over the last two years)

The Times first focusses on All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs)

APPGs are run by and for Members of the Commons and Lords who join together to pursue a particular topic or interest. Many involve individuals and organisations from outside Parliament in their administration and activities – or as the journalists put it, “help to push industry agendas in parliament”. Read more here.

Unsurprisingly, BAE Systems, which spent £37,000 on a group “to promote better understanding of the Her Majesty’s armed forces in parliament”, is among the biggest backers of the parliamentary groups.

The writers comment that parliamentary groups have proved contentious because of the large amounts spent on reports that often support the views of industry and which grant access to parliament for companies and lobbyists.

BT’s £53,000 included backing the parliamentary internet, communications and technology forum, known as Pictfor, whose members include Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader and Lord Birt, former Blair adviser and director-general of the BBC. A list of funders may be seen here.

Note: ’Donations to APPGs’ shows spending between Jan 2015 and Mar 2017 as declared on the Register of APPGs. ’Spend on EU lobbying’ shows companies’ minimum estimates for the most recent financial year declared on the EU Transparency Register at the time of research. Here is a snapshot taken from one of 10 pages listing donations/other spending and the companies’ rationales for these sums being given.

The Times’ second focus is on the denial of information to shareholders

Less than £10,000 of identified political and lobbying spending in the EU was disclosed to shareholders in the companies’ recent annual reports. ompanies are not required to disclose details to shareholders and little information on corporate political and lobbying activities is revealed in annual reports, which are published before shareholder meetings. The tens of millions of euros spent each year in the EU go largely undeclared to shareholders.

Corporate Europe, which campaigns for greater transparency in EU decision making, has spent years tracking how the business world moulds policy.

Vicky Cann, the group’s UK representative, said that the banking and energy industries were the most active lobbyists. “The financial services industry is a huge spender and even then we think the real scope of their spending is probably bigger than we can currently see,” she said. Her colleague gave the example of recent emissions legislation that was the subject of intense lobbying by BP and Shell.

As Peter van Veen, director of business integrity at Transparency International, said, “Corporate transparency over political activities is important to ensure the public can have the confidence that their politicians and industry leaders are conducting business ethically . . . If companies are not voluntarily willing to disclose their political activities and funding of these, then stronger legislation should be considered and a possible starting point may be to broaden the definition of political activities and expenditure in the Companies Act 2006.”

 

 

 

 

Taxpayers unwittingly fund GM trials as the prospect of leaving wiser European counsellors looms

Will agri-business be allowed to charge ahead, imposing genetically modified food on an unwilling public?  

This is Rothamsted research centre, one of the country’s largest agricultural research stations.

The work is publicly funded through a £696,000 grant from the government’s UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and $294,000 from the US Department of Agriculture. Other partners include the universities of Lancaster and Illinois.

https://gmandchemicalindustry9.wordpress.com/2017/03/29/taxpayers-unwittingly-fund-gm-trials-as-the-prospect-of-leaving-wiser-european-counsellors-looms/

 

 

 

Seeking food supplies from Turkey and Morocco?  Time for change!

On BBC Radio 4 today it was reported that some supermarkets are limiting sales of fruit and vegetables.

veg-2shortage

A newspaper elaborates: “Morrisons and Tesco have limited the amount of lettuce and broccoli after flooding and snow hit farms in Spain. Shortages of other household favourites – including cauliflower, cucumbers, courgettes, oranges, peppers and tomatoes – are also expected. Prices of some veg has rocketed 40% due to the freak weather. Sainsburys admitted weather has also affected its stocks”.

HortiDaily reports on frost in Europe in detail (one of many pictures below) and the search for supplies from Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia.

A former Greenpeace Economist foresees these and more persistent problems in his latest book, Progressive Protectionism.

Read on: https://foodvitalpublicservice.wordpress.com/2017/02/03/seeking-food-supplies-from-turkey-time-for-change/

 

 

 

Will the EU referendum lead to a British exit from the EU?

 The referendum is non-binding.

eu referendum

The FT’s leader today expanded on this:

“A vote for Brexit will not be determinative of whether the UK will leave the EU. That potential outcome comes down to the political decisions which then follow before the Article 50 notification.

“The policy of the government (if not of all of its ministers) is to remain in the EU. The UK government may thereby seek to put off the Article 50 notification, regardless of political pressure and conventional wisdom.

What matters in law is when and whether the government invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty

“This is the significant “red button”. Once the Article 50 process is commenced then Brexit does become a matter of law, and quite an urgent one. It would appear this process is (and is intended to be) irreversible and irrevocable once it starts. But invoking Article 50 is a legally distinct step from the referendum result — it is not an obligation”.

The UK would have two years to negotiate a deal after triggering the exit clause of the EU treaties; extending talks beyond that would require unanimous agreement of the EU’s member states.

A Telegraph article adds that issues would include what financial regulations would still apply to the City of London, trade tariffs and movement rights of EU citizens and UK nationals. The agreement would have to be ratified both by the European council and the parliament in Strasbourg. During that time Britain would continue to abide by EU treaties and laws – however it would not take part in any decision making.

And could the United Kingdom legally disregard a vote for Brexit?

The legal analysis and mechanics were outlined earlier in an FT blog by lawyer and writer David Allen Green, who confirms that the referendum is advisory rather than mandatory:

“What happens next in the event of a vote to leave is therefore a matter of politics not law. It will come down to what is politically expedient and practicable.

  • The UK government could seek to ignore such a vote; to explain it away and characterise it in terms that it has no credibility or binding effect . . .
  • Or they could say it is now a matter for parliament, and then endeavour to win the parliamentary vote.
  • Or ministers could try to re-negotiate another deal and put that to another referendum.

He adds: “There is, after all, a tradition of EU member states repeating referendums on EU-related matters until voters eventually vote the “right” way”.

Green shows that there are ‘ways and means’ to avoid Brexit.

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SNP MP – Britain’s Game of Thrones?

Read the article by Chris Stephens, SNP MP for Glasgow South West and secretary of the SNP Trade Union Group, here.

Highlights

The hard right-wing Brexiters are on manoeuvres, resulting in a Queen’s Speech light on measures for dealing with our society’s major problems. No mention of:

  • the scandal of 209,000 UK workers being denied payment of the legal minimum wage in their pay packets,
  • The absence of any real legislation to deal with the scandal of tax avoidance
  • the absurdity of closing 90 per cent of HMRC offices.

A total of 3,765 workers are employed in the Department for Work and Pensions to tackle benefit fraud estimated at £1.2 billion, while at the same time 320 workers are employed in HM Revenue and Customs’s affluent unit chasing tax evasion and avoidance, estimated at £70bn.

The “blue on blue” attacks may provide some entertainment but . . .

The rhetoric on immigration is shameful. Slogans suggesting that Britain is “flooded” or being “swamped” don’t stand up to the simple reality — EU nationals make up 4.6 per cent of the UK population. equivalent of a net contribution of £55 a second to the public purse 75 per cent of migrants are renting privately, according to the Chartered Institute of Housing, and regulation of private rental costs.

eu 4 myths table

The Tory government handed asylum-seeker services to private-sector providers, such as Orchard and Shipman, which has resulted in those asylum-seekers and refugees being housed in the most appalling disgraceful conditions I’ve witnessed for myself in my constituency. Brexit won’t magically free up affordable, quality public-sector or private rental housing.

The misleading case that EU migration leads to a cut in wages is wrong on several counts.

First, because business is exploiting loopholes in how Britain operates the EU Posted Workers Directive, which guarantees the payment of the national minimum wage and not the rate for the job. This loophole needs to be closed so that workers alongside each other are not being paid different rates of pay for doing the same job.

In terms of workers’ rights those advocating Leave should be careful what they wish for. Recently Employment Minister Priti Patel let the proverbial cat out of the proverbial bag. In a speech to the Institute of Directors she said: “If we could just halve the burdens of the EU social and employment legislation we could deliver a £4.3bn boost to our economy and 60,000 new jobs.”

We should certainly not accept her claims on jobs or economic benefits to this kind of deregulation (it rather reminds us of right-wing claims on how the minimum wage would cost a million jobs, when it did the opposite), but her hostile attitude to employment protections is particularly striking and represents the agenda of those on the Conservative benches who back Brexit. These “burdens” viewed from working people’s end of the telescope are actually protections which we should be very keen on.

Freed from the constraints of the EU, it seems entirely likely that, unfettered by EU norms and processes, the Conservative government will sign up to a TTIP on stilts, meaning not just a threat to public services but the safety of goods and services.

The EU is not perfect by any means, and more work requires to be done. Those on the left who argue that our membership is the biggest obstacle to improving workers’ rights and achieving greater levels of equality in our country need to take a good hard look at the levels of damage an even harder right-wing Tory government could inflict post-Brexit on this country.

We in the SNP believe in independence for nations but also in independence within Europe, and a vote to Remain is a bigger protection against the economic and social ravages a right-wing no-holds-barred gang of Tory Brexiteers would inflict on us all.

 

 

 

 

How bad journalism supports our bogus democracies

The 4th July 2014 edition of the Friend included Elizabeth Redfern’s review of Patrick Chalmers’ book ‘Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports our Bogus Democracies’. Elizabeth opens:

fraudcast news cover“Press corruption is sadly a subject we’re now familiar with, from the press’s own coverage of the Leveson Inquiry and more recently the trial of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and others, who – in what might become the longest criminal trial in English history – are charged with phone hacking at the now-defunct News of the World tabloid.

“It would be nice to think that this is an unfortunate blip in an otherwise sparkling British press history. Certainly I hadn’t taken much notice of the inquiry or court case until I’d started to read Patrick’s book, when some familiar words started to nag at me.

“ ‘Don’t believe all you read in the papers’ is a common enough phrase, but how much do we really understand about the accuracy of what we are told – and not told – in the press, whether in newspapers, on the radio and television, or more recently on news websites. Certainly I was happy to dismiss much of what I read in the tabloid press, but I didn’t over question what the major television channels said, and as a TV licence payer I was by and large happy with the non-commercial BBC.

“Patrick’s book has pulled me up with a start . . . showing how fundamentally flawed are the so called democracies we live in, and how the mainstream press has no motivation in highlighting to us their biased and manipulative nature. I’m ready to read, watch and listen with new eyes and ears . . .

“ (Patrick’s) main interest is democracy, social justice, and political governance at both local and global levels, and then how – by being well and accurately informed – we can influence the way our world is run. His book follows his journey from naive enthusiasm as a novice journalist to, after 25 years, the sad realisation that news organisations are not really interested in accurate political reporting. The book ‘summarises contemporary governance failures and how journalists must do – and can do – a far better job in bringing them to public light’ . . .

“Starting as an engineering graduate, Patrick tried on repeated occasions to get his dream job at the British news agency Reuters, and succeeded on his fourth attempt, as he believed that they would give him the opportunity to travel, meet interesting people and cover politics. He certainly had the travel, being based in Brussels, London and Malaysia, and met and challenged, amongst others Fidel Castro, Vladimir Putin and Bill Clinton; but had very little opportunity to cover politics in the way he had hoped . . .

“Patrick points out that we all more aware than previous generations were. We know about climate change, conflicts in places like Iraq, and the financial crisis; but how much of what we think we know is accurate?

“And then there is the recent phone-hacking scandal involving the journalists themselves. Our role as press consumers needs to evolve, and Patrick’s book helps us with that evolution. He prompts us to ask the obvious question ‘who do journalists answer too?’ Clearly like most employees, to their employers not their consumers, and their employers or those influencing their employers are often ‘industry-beholden politicians with little political legitimacy’. Or, in the case of the large news agencies, their employers’ customers are large corporations, especially for financial journalism, who only need high-level up-to-date news to understand and work in their markets.

“As Patrick says, the general public needs detailed journalism that helps us ‘join the dots linking banks, financial systems and their regulators to the wider economy’.

The larger the political party the larger the purse to pay for journalistic influence, and rarely here are policies analysed in detail to see their potential positive and negative effects on society: Far easier to focus on the politician talking.

“Patrick also points the finger at large, and often at arm’s length, political institutions such as the EU. Its civil servants, who have a heavy deregulation agenda, run roughshod over national elected ministers, with support bought by the same large corporations, and where criticism is branded as racist. After the EU elections it will be interesting to see what reforms, if any, happen, and how the press covers them.

“Are we as press consumers an economic threat to these corporations if we are well informed? I rather think that it would be a good thing if we were. Too often the mantra of ‘job creation and job protection’ is used to cover ‘shareholder pocket protection’.

“So why don’t we become grass-roots journalists, examining and exploring, and truly ‘speak truth to power’. Using Patrick’s book as a guide we can make our own contribution to a revolution in journalism, focused on people and their needs, and not politicians and institutions. And through this grass-roots work we can influence our environment and aim towards true democracies where we are not ruled over but take an active part in our governance, perhaps through citizens’ assemblies.

“And now is the time to do this, as it is now easier to ‘publish’ than ever before, and we are further away from those that govern us than ever before. This could include videos shot on smart phones. ‘Cutting edge technology allied with public interest content’. We already have groups like ‘Wikileaks’, and the Occupy movement, and we’ve seen how they have touched a nerve with governments and business.

“As long as we develop a ‘structure and focus for our work, check our facts, and make sure we provide a fair and accurate account of events’, we can contribute and work with others locally, nationally and internationally to raise awareness. We can be ‘social and political justice activists’: Investigating, understanding and discussing, and as we know most people like to be asked about how things affect them. Patrick has certainly encouraged me that we can all be amateur and yet effective journalists, especially with modern technology, without a great deal of investment in time and money. And I plan to investigate how I can learn some of the ‘tricks of the trade’, and start writing more on the subjects that interest me which deal mainly with small business development and employment generation . . . “

Click here to read the article.

Patrick, a former foreign correspondent and a member of Quakers and Business, is holding a reading of his book on Friday August 1st 2014, 6.30pm to 9.00pm, at St Mary’s Community Centre, Upper Street, Islington, N1 2TX. For more information: http://fraudcastnews.wordpress.com/

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