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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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Professor Sikka: politicians seek to serve corporations rather than ensuring that corporations serve the people

prem sikka 3A recent article in the Scottish Independent by Professor Prem Sikka (Accountancy, University of Essex) is summarised here. For his more strongly expressed denunciation of the status quo and to follow a large number of links giving information about the organisations and scandals to which he refers, click on the link to the article.

Predatory capitalism eats away at society as people lose faith in any sense of justice, fairness and democracy.

A story that deserves much greater scrutiny:

HSBC, a major global corporation which boasts ethics committees, audit committees, non-executive directors and a major accountancy firm as its auditor, helped 106,000 clients to avoid taxes; all of these collected mega rewards but deny any responsibility for malpractice.

Predatory practices are deeply embedded in company boardrooms. This is the inevitable outcome of a political ideology that promotes faith in unbridled markets and light-touch regulation.

The UK financial sector has sold abusive pensions, endowment mortgages, payment protection insurance and other products. Banks have been engaged in money laundering, interest rate fixing and manipulation of foreign exchange rates. Payday lenders have been charging sky-high rates for lending small amounts of money to the needy and then sending fake legal letters to pressure them into paying.

A brief glimpse of other predatory practices which have also become institutionalised

  • 92% of the UK energy market is controlled by just six global corporations and last year alone they overcharged customers up to £234 a year.
  • Despite subsidies of £4-5bn year to privatised train companies, UK passengers face one of highest train fares in the world.
  • Water and telephone are not far behind.
  • Price comparison websites collude with sellers to conceal the cheapest deals.
  • Supermarkets engage in fake sales to entice customers. They have developed techniques that result in filling chicken with water and selling it as meat. They squeeze concessions out of suppliers, especially small ones, with the threat that unless they acquiesce the high street giants will not stock their products.
  • Big DIY stores use ‘yo-yo’ pricing to fool customers into thinking they are getting a bargain kitchen and other household items. In case, anyone wants to complain, chances are it will be a premium line telephone number which will keep you waiting.
  • Too many doctors have been incentivised by healthcare companies to refer patients to selected private hospitals.
  • Pharmaceutical companies exploit the National Health Service by charging vast amounts for drugs that cost pennies to produce. The price of some medicines has been inflated by as much as 2000% and taxpayer has been fleeced of tens of millions of pounds.

There are two broad reasons for the advance of predatory capitalism

Firstly, major companies are under relentless pressure from stock markets to meet profit forecasts. The markets don’t care if the targets are met through predatory practices.

Secondly, executive remuneration is linked to profits. Personal enrichment, at almost any price, seems to have become a dominant practice. The shame no longer resides to planning or executing anti-social practices, but in possible public exposure.

Instead of strengthening UK corporate laws, successive governments have favoured soft or voluntary rules for the corporate sector.

Executives are allowed to draw up their own rules. The corporate governance code is one such example. Compliance with it is voluntary. It does not give the long suffering public any rights and there are no penalties on corporations or their executives for predatory practices.

Governments are adept at covering up the stench of predatory capitalism.

For example, in July 1991 the Bank of England closed the fraud-ridden Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). It was the site of the biggest banking fraud of the twentieth-century and some 1.4 million savers lost some part of their savings. However, to this day, the closure has not been followed by an independent investigation. Successive governments concealed the identities of wrongdoers and claimed that it was not in the public interest to reveal them. All this is done to protect weapons exports to dubious regimes in the Middle East.

Prime Minister Tony Blair personally intervened to stop an investigation into allegations of bribery by BAE to secure contracts for the sale of arms. Naturally, BAE professed its innocence and Tony Blair claimed that dropping this investigation was apparently in the national interest. However, the US administration pursued BAE and the company pleaded guilty to making false statements and paid a fine of $400 million for its criminal conduct.

A major shift in law, regulation and political ideology is needed to curb predatory practices, but the inertia and connivance of UK institutions does not inspire confidence. There is little sign that predatory capitalism will be checked for the foreseeable future as politicians seek to serve corporations rather than ensuring that corporations serve the people.

EU: unelected bureaucrats are negotiating in secret – we have lost control of our everyday lives

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“I watched Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 again last night and it meant so much more to me this time around. We have corruption via politicians and multi-national corporations,” writes an independent councillor.

“I am quite convinced that by staying in the EU we are compromising our environment and health safety to multi-corporations like Monsanto.

“These unelected bureaucrats are negotiating in secret and we have lost control of our everyday lives because of this.

“The sooner we have a referendum the better and I hope the people will see the benefits of ruling ourselves. (I know we have corruption here but at least it is nearby.)

“We can then trade with whoever we like and enforce good trading standards on safety, health and fair trade with partners”.

Large retailers ‘hold’ over food banks’ gives them even more political sway

A Lancashire reader writes: ”It would be excellent if donors to foodbanks chose to support local village or high street independents rather than buy their donated food from the large corporates.

“If someone stands to benefit from the purchase of the donated food, let it be the small and medium sized businesses that are of great value, as the money is likely to remain within the community instead of going to wealthy foreign investors like Warren Buffett who always profits from the little man and the poor.

”A PR exercise to boost the sales of the large corporate retailers, one in particular, is under way, as people flock to their stores to spend their money instore while also supporting “the cause” by buying extra items. Of course our favourite retailer – Not – will top up food donations by 30% on 5th & 6th July. Think of what they will earn on the rest of the shopping of the generous customers attracted to the project who may not have shopped there before.

 

MP Neil Parish at Tesco promotion

MP Neil Parish at Tesco promotion

 

(On the website of one such store we read that, “customers will be given special shopping lists to encourage them to buy everyday food items like cereals, rice, instant coffee, tinned food and sauces. Collections will take place between 9am – 6pm in Tesco stores).

The reader continues:

“I am very wary of the large retailers having such a hold over this project and taking over yet another controlling role giving them even more political sway than they have already.

“This may also provide an over-generous income stream for charity organisers commanding a lucrative salary and the often over-indulgent expenses connected with their work while the front lines are staffed with volunteers”.