Manchester’s Afzal Khan, former Lord Mayor of the city and current MEP for the NW of England, has received thousands of messages asking him to reject the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Khan told local campaigners last Friday he was still undecided on whether to vote for or against CETA, the controversial Canada/EU trade deal, when its fate will be decided on the 15 February in the European Parliament.
Local trade campaigners presented him with a giant letter (see feature image) signed by over 100 Mancunians insisting he and his colleagues follow the precautionary principle and vote against CETA. The document is a 1598 page corporate lawyer’s happy hunting ground which comes up for final take-it-or-leave-it approval in Strasbourg in a few days’ time.
CETA, like the more famous USA/EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal (TTIP), has been negotiated behind closed doors and now comes to the European Parliament for approval with no scope for amendment. It threatens to give transnational big business unfair powers and access to UK markets while stopping local and national government supporting local enterprises. Many see it as a backdoor for corporate coercion and interests which were frustrated by TTIP being stalled by widespread opposition,including over half a million UK citizens.
Even after Brexit the UK could be subject to a one-sided investment court system (ICS) for 20 years, allowing foreign companies to sue governments for regulating trade and possibly impacting future profits. Similar cases have been raised by companies using investor-state dispute settlements in other trade deals: tobacco companies have opposed anti-smoking campaigns, energy companies have fought the rejection of fracking applications and decisions to phase out nuclear powered electricity.
In his response to the campaigners Khan reflected on the give and take nature of European Parliament politics and the need to build relationships with others through compromise rather than simply point-scoring and following predetermined electoral result.
Laura Williams of Global Justice Manchester pointed out the flimsiness of promised benefits and that CETA and similar agreements without legal safeguards cannot be squared with Labour’s red lines and visions of protecting workers’ rights. Khan agreed progressive forces are feeling, “enough is enough” and there is a need to stand up to a corporate led agenda, looking at its implications, standards and effect on countries who are not part of such deals.
The situation is developing rapidly. Over the weekend Khan planned to study the issues before returning to Parliament where the UK Labour group will be debating its stance. Khan said:
“I will have an open mind and listen to contributions, and then make my decision.”
With its stance agreed Labour MEPs will meet with EU colleagues in the Socialists and Democrats group to agree their block’s position before the final vote expected on Wednesday 15 February. Khan concluded:
“If the S&D group come out against CETA it should be ‘dead in the water’; if not the chances are it will go through.”
As the meeting ended Khan picked up a big Stop CETA sticker and promised to hold it up at the vote in Strasbourg. He was assured NW constituents would be watching him!
Why do people care?
Peoples worries about CETA vary. Some are motivated by concerns about NHS privatisation and asset-stripping, others by worries about food standards and environmental safeguards; fracking is a local issue and Canadian businesses are big in unconventional fossil-fuel extraction. Some want governments and councils to be able to protect local businesses and jobs or worry about democratic accountability if legislators are scared of costly legal actions being brought against them.
For me it’s about all these but also about what sort of world I want my granddaughters to grow up in. I don’t want runaway climate change brought on by irresponsible laissez-faire systems. I want fairness and not a dictatorship by corporations. I want people’s needs to be prioritised over corporate greed. And I want a world where people in all nations get to set the rules, not have them imposed by a self-serving coterie of the ‘Haves’.
I’ve known Afzal Khan since he was Lord Mayor of Manchester. He has a history of supporting human rights, international peace and economic justice issues. Earlier in the week he met with the President of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, raising awareness of the growing unrest and violence there. Previously he has worked on interfaith dialogue and championed the push of Make Poverty History and Jubilee Debt Campaign.
I hope I can trust him and his colleagues to follow the precautionary principle- if you aren’t sure it’s safe the answer is NO! Any good parts in CETA can be picked up later, properly debated and amended by our representatives. If CETA is such a good thing, why did Liam Fox downgrade its promised scrutiny in Westminster and recently push it through via an afternoon committee meeting when attention was elsewhere in the drama of Brexit?
Mancunians have eight MEPs representing them but some seem not to acknowledge their constituents’ messages. Although the three NW Labour MEPs: Theresa Griffiin, Afzal Khan and Julie Ward have yet to decide on their stance, UKIP’s Paul Nuttall (currently campaigning to become MP for Stoke) and Louise Bours have publicly pledged to vote against CETA, as has former UKIP MEP and Mancunian Steven Woolfe. All three however have poor voting records and may benefit from congratulations on their voting stance and reminders to turn up and deliver.
Action this day!
All is to play for in the next few hours and campaigning organisations are pulling out all the stops with a planned Valentine’s Day twitter storm from Global Justice Now, and supporters and concerned members of the public asked to send their own emails and make direct telephone calls to give their representatives a clear mandate from the electorate to balance the massive weight of big-business lobbying that has been trying to determine their mindset.
To contact your MEPs see:
The Campaign Against Climate Change website (click here)
The European Parliament Information Office, UK (click here)
Stephen Pennells – Global Justice Manchester and StopTTIP_MCR
Featured Image: Stephen Pennells (with addition of Wikipedia Commons images for EU and Canada flags)
Stephen Pennells says
The European Parliament passed CETA. However concessions were made and although part of it may start coming into play very soon, other parts, including the ICS courts system have to be passed by sovereign parliaments. It is unclear when Westminster will get a vote on this, one idea being perhaps the 24th. Feb. Global Justice Now encourages people to contact their MEPs and ask them to call for parliamentary scrutiny of all trade deals. cf. https://action.globaljustice.org.uk/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1784&ea.campaign.id=58148&ea.tracking.id=website&_ga=1.142214519.474387722.1442496468
Stephen Pennells says
Since writing I’ve spoken to the offices of Sajjad Karim, Steven Woolfe, Louise Bours and Paul Nuttall. PN’s office tell me he won’t be in Strasbourg as he’s campaigning in Stoke, but should use some procedure which enables votes to be registered by proxy or in absentia.
SK’s office in Chorlton said hadn’t recd. e sent to Brux office addr. :-< and promised a response after I resent the petition to them. Not yet heard from.
Likewise not heard back from PN's (as promised) re. how he's going to vote the way he says he wants.
You can send a Valentine on Tues here: http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/send-anti-ceta-valentines-card-your-meps
We will see what we will see!
Stephen Pennells says
Unconfirmed reports are that Sajjad Karim and Jacqueline Foster (Cons.) voted to pass CETA and that Paul Nuttall, Louise Bours and Steven Woolfe didn’t vote/weren’t present. I’ve written to them for confirmation.
However both Afzal and Theresa Griffin have issued clear and strong statements as to why they voted to Stop CETA and these provide useful support as the campaign now moves to Westminster. As a former Lord Mayor and leading figure in community relations in Manchester, and as someone who had to be won over, Afzal’s stance should be persuasive. As someone focussing on the threat to the NHS and injustice to little people, so will Theresa’s.
For Afzal see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cz1QB2PilGg
For Theresa see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8Mex0dlhw0
Stephen Pennells says
Many apologies for a delay in misleading people in the post above.
I’ve still not heard from Paul Nuttall and Louise Bours, but Steven Woolfe has responded reassuring me that he (and another former UKIP leader who is now sitting in the EP as an independent) was present and did vote against CETA. See further: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P04Us68SDTI and a video of him talking to demonstrators on his facebook.
“Clarification” from Mr. N. and Ms. B. is still awaited and will be added when/if it is received.
(Confirmation of votes can be found by searching through http://www.votewatch.eu/en/term8-eu-canada-comprehensive-economic-and-trade-agreement-draft-legislative-resolution-vote-consent-conse.html . This does not show those MPs who weren’t there, despite it appearing to suggest they all were present. Absenses have to be deduced by their non-appearance in vote lists by block. (UKIP sits as EFDD, Conservatives as ECR [100% for CETA] and Lab. as S&D. Steven Woolfe is found by filtering for the NI group.)
Stephen Pennells says
Although he passionately advocates Trade deregulation, Steven Woolfe supported protestors outside the European Parliament and voted AGAINST CETA. See his twitterfeed @Steven_Woolfe and his facebook @StevenWoolfeMEPOfficial. (or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P04Us68SDTI)
Louise Bours has responded (14th. Mar 2017):
“Considering that I have not had an office in Liverpool since August last year, I find it odd that you say you have spoken to someone from the Liverpool office.
My constituency office is in Congleton, Cheshire and has been since the building in Liverpool was sold (the owners are turning it into a hotel apparently).
As for being told that people can vote via a proxy, this is utter nonsense. This would contravene the EP rules, no-one can vote in place of a member. This is widely known, and I suspect that someone was trying once again to cause mischief. This is a regular occurrence for pro Brexit politicians. Votes are conducted electronically, from your seat within the hemi-cycle, and you have to insert your own voting card to record a vote. There is absolutely no way that a member of my staff would say that I could vote via a proxy. If you have the name of the staff member involved please pass it on to me asap. This would be a serious breach in their duty, and gross misconduct. I suspect you have no name, and indeed I suspect you did not speak to a member of my staff. This is not to say that I do not believe you spoke to anybody, however, they were obviously not in my employ.
As for campaigning in Stoke, this is also utter rubbish.
Unfortunately due to a serious family illness I was not in Brussels or Strasbourg for most of February. … DETAILS DELETED ON GROUNDS OF PRIVACY…
Although I would have voted against CETA had I been at the plenary, my one vote would not have brought about any change in the result. As with all of these things, the S and D group and EPP lead the parliament, and votes are won and lost on what they decide to do.
I am in attendance at plenary at the moment, and write this from my Strasbourg office.
Happily, we are on the cusp of triggering Article 50, and CETA will be something that does not concern Britain anyway.
I respond on my own behalf, not for Paul Nuttall MEP.
Louise Bours MEP.”
Stitch-up or cock-up or something else?
Ciara O'Sullivan says
Enjoyed this – good to have a personal view as well as an informed view