Ruth Davidson, Sadiq Khan, and Frances O’Grady share the stage at the BBC’s Wembley debate.
“I do not take my mandate from the European people”. These are the words of Cecilia Malmström, the European Union’s Commissioner for Trade, who is on the front line in negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP for short. In an interview with a journalist from the Independent, Malmström responded to criticism of the secrecy surrounding the negotiations with the above quote, though she claims it was fabricated.
In a way, the sprawling technocratic and bureaucratic institutions of the EU can be effectively summed up by this single quote. Here you have a commissioner who represents the some 700 million people of the European Union, informing us in no uncertain terms that she is not working for us, but for the swarming masses of lobbyists that circle Brussels like vultures.
TTIP represents the United States’ most recent (and perhaps most desperate) attempt at conspiring with European powers to destroy what remains of workers’ rights.
But what is TTIP exactly? Though the likes of Malmström are doing their best to keep it a closely guarded secret, a few snippets of the trade deal have made their way into the public’s hands, and they are not pretty.
One snippet is the so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement, a mechanism which exists in other undemocratic trade deals such as NAFTA. If approved, the ISDS would allow private corporations to sue governments if the policies of those governments negatively affect profits. For instance, if a government in the EU passes a public smoking ban, the tobacco industry could launch a lawsuit against that government to compensate it for the possible loss in profits. By extension, they would be suing you. Your tax money would be spent on fighting lawsuits because foreign companies doesn’t like the laws your government is trying to pass.
Effectively, this mechanic allows multinational corporations to select which policies we in Britain are allowed to enact, something I regard to be a far bigger threat to our sovereignty than fishing treaties or open borders. This is not mere speculation either: In 2014 a corrupt Swedish energy company called Vattenfall sued the German government for $6 billion after they tried to phase out nuclear power. Under TTIP, these frivolous lawsuits will become the norm. They are effectively a private veto against environmental policies, worker’s rights, and even human rights, if any link can be proven between those laws and a reduction in corporate profits.
But the ISDS is just the tip of the iceberg where TTIP is concerned. The trade deal would also diminish the already weakened banking regulations many European countries adopted after the 2008 financial crash, and it could push public services like the NHS into competitive markets, prioritizing profit over social welfare. In a nutshell, TTIP would bring the EU under the regulatory wing of the U.S., a country with appalling labour standards and a sore lack of financial regulation.
“TTIP is less about trade and more about giving big business sweeping new powers over our society. It is a blueprint for deregulation and privatisation” – Nick Deardon
Perhaps it makes sense to stick around and fight TTIP tooth and nail. But what can we do? Even our elected representatives in Westminster are being kept in the dark, and the only TTIP vote in Brussels so far has actually advanced the negotiations, not stopped them. The most we’ve been able to secure is empty compromises on public services. For the most part, TTIP continues to steamroller its way through the European Union.
At this point, you might be asking yourself whether that’s a good enough reason to stay in. After all, TTIP has not been finalized, and many compromises could be made to protect our public services and sovereign powers in the mean time. But consider who would be making these compromises: The government of David Cameron. A government which has absolutely no intention of passing the kinds of laws that could get us sued in the first place. A government that is absolutely indifferent to securing workers’ rights or human rights.
But why should we remain, if the EU is trying to hurt us too?
Because although the EU is advancing TTIP, leaving would be like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, and fighting TTIP from within the EU will be a lot easier than fighting from the outside.
“The deal was meant to be signed by now – but together, Europe’s people have seriously stalled things” – Nick Deardon
In the event of a Brexit, most of TTIP’s provisions would need to be adopted anyway, if we want to keep our access to the single market. If not, and we take up our seat at the World Trade Organization like Farage suggests, we will still be subject to the same deregulating, private power forces that want to turn our NHS into a for-profit business and stop us from passing our own laws. The only difference this time is that there would be no EU to save us from these forces. We would be entirely at the mercy of corporate interests.
In any event, we owe some of our most fundamental employment rights to the EU, such as equal pay, paid holidays, a limited work week, and parental leave. These are but a handful of the benefits that the EU offers us, and it often protects us even when national governments seek to revoke our rights. TTIP or not, a Brexit puts all of these hard-won rights at risk.
Successive British governments have tried to have their cake and eat it, but they often find themselves unable to opt out of workers’ rights charters and human rights agreements without pulling out of the Union itself.
John Major, Tony Blair, David Cameron – all have done their best to stamp on the faces of workers, but sometimes the EU stops them in their tracks, and forces them to treat their citizens like human beings.
The biggest threat to the health of Britain is not immigration. You shouldn’t buy that lie any more. The biggest threat is people like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, people who want to tear up your human rights and your rights in the workplace. Are you going to let them?
The EU referendum will take place on the 23rd of June.