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‘Brexit Freedoms Bill’ Can’t Reverse What We’ve Already Lost

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/05/2022 - 8:59pm in

As the Government proposes new laws to ‘unshackle’ the UK, Sam Bright reviews the fundamental freedoms that have already been lost due to Brexit

The Government has today announced in its Queen’s Speech plans for a ‘Brexit Freedoms Bill’, that will allegedly finally liberate the economy in the wake of the UK's departure from the EU.

This legislation has been a long time coming. The idea of casting off the shackles of burdensome EU regulations has been a core part of the Brexiter argument since 2016, and a Brexit Freedoms Bill was promised by the Government in January – pledging to cut “£1 billion of red tape for businesses and improve regulation”.

Such legislation comes on the back of the Government publishing a 100-page ‘Benefits of Brexit’ paper earlier this year – which didn’t mention a single downside of leaving the EU – and appointing Jacob Rees-Mogg as its ‘Brexit Opportunities Minister’, a role still without any formal responsibilities.

‘Freedom’ is an ideological lynchpin of libertarian Brexiters, yet extracting Britain from its closest trading bloc has restricted our freedoms in many crucial ways. Here are just a few.

Freedom of Movement

Ironically, the guiding impetus for Brexit – the reason why a majority of people voted for the project – was to stop freedom of movement between the UK and the rest of the EU.

So, now, rather than having the freedom to live and work with ease across Europe, Brits are limited to 90 days on the continent in any 180-day period, before being required to apply for a visa.

Freedom of movement has also obviously been limited in the opposite direction, with stricter visa requirements – including work sponsorship and an income threshold – for those seeking to live in the UK.

This has limited the freedoms not just of Europeans seeking to work in the UK, but also of domestic businesses and consumers.

Indeed, Brexit has triggered a shortage of workers across the economy. It has exacerbated a shortage of HGV drivers, for example, causing shortages of food on shelves and even leading to a petrol crisis in September and October last year. The problem was so acute that, as of mid-December, military personnel were still being required to deliver fuel to petrol stations.

More than 35,000 pigs have also been culled in the UK while crops have been left to rot, due to labour shortages, according to a parliamentary report. The report said that, by August last year, there were an estimated 500,000 vacancies among the nation’s 4.1 million food and farming roles.

“The evidence we have received leaves us in no doubt that labour shortages, caused by Brexit and accentuated by the pandemic, have badly affected businesses across the food and farming sector,” it said. “If not resolved swiftly, they threaten to shrink the sector permanently with a chain reaction of wage rises and price increases reducing competitiveness, leading to food production being exported abroad and increased imports.”

Ironically, in the Queen’s Speech, the Government portrayed its immigration policies as “giving the UK the freedom to decide who comes to our country based on the skills people have to offer”.

Erasmus

Students also constitute a notable body of people who won’t be able to take advantage of seamless continental work opportunities after Brexit.

The Government announced in December 2020 that it had decided not to participate in the EU’s Erasmus exchange programme for students and young people.

Instead, the UK has set up its own scheme – Turing – that seeks to provide routes to study in non-EU countries as well as in the EU.

However, the Turing scheme has been criticised for offering 14,000 fewer placements than its predecessor programme, and for providing less financial support for students.

Trade

The freedom to trade – a concept encased within the slogan ‘Global Britain’ – has also been a driving force of the Brexit project.

Yet, so far, the UK’s great trade liberation has not materialised. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) says that the impact of Brexit on the domestic economy will be worse than COVID. Indeed, chairman of the OBR, Richard Hughes, said that Brexit would restrict economic growth by twice as much as COVID.

The City of London’s policy chief, meanwhile, has said that the Coronavirus pandemic is masking the economic hit caused by Brexit.

Some of the trade implications of Brexit have been difficult to mask, however.

A myriad of new red tape, caused by Britain’s departure from the single market and the customs union, has hindered the ability of goods to be easily distributed across the Channel. Videos of miles-long tailbacks out of Dover are now commonplace, with a whistleblower at the port saying that 95% of the problems are being caused by “the red tape which is now necessary because we left the EU”.

“The jobs that were taking five minutes can now take over an hour to do,” he told Byline TV. “I’d say my workload has doubled since 1 January this year.”

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Trade is also a diplomatic tool, not simply an economic one – as has been witnessed during Russia’s war in Ukraine.

In mid-March, for example, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss made a speech in Washington D.C., arguing that the UK and the Western world must reduce its “strategic economic reliance on authoritarian regimes”. Trade sanctions have been designed with this in mind – to aid the cause of liberty and freedom in Ukraine.

However, Brexit has pushed Britain further away from the free states of the West.

As Byline Times has calculated, overall UK trade with countries on the Government’s human rights concern list increased markedly, by 36%, from 2015 to 2019. Notably, total UK trade with Russia increased from £10.1 billion to £14.1 billion from 2015 to 2019, while trade with China increased from £58 billion to £86.8 billion – an increase of almost 50%.

Northern Ireland and the Devolved Nations

It is also difficult to dispute that Northern Ireland has seen its freedoms curtailed since Britain’s departure from the EU – with the country’s Assembly now locked in paralysis over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has effectively created a trade border between Britain and Northern Ireland in order to avoid such a scenario on the island of Ireland.

Even former Brexit Minister Lord David Frost, who helped to negotiate the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU, has said that the Protocol is the country’s “most urgent and pressing problem”.

The Economics Observatory has noted additional food costs in Northern Ireland, as a direct result of the Protocol, and points to research suggesting that its long-term cost to the economy of Northern Ireland could be equivalent to 2-3% of GDP – even despite the country preserving its access to the single market.

Meanwhile, the other devolved nations haven’t exactly seen their freedoms burgeon as a result of Brexit. Scotland was wrenched out of the EU against its wishes, 62% voting to remain in the bloc and – while Wales did vote in favour of Brexit – the views of its Government were consistently sidelined during the withdrawal process.

Article 50 – the official mechanism to leave the EU – was triggered without the agreement of the Scottish and Welsh Governments. This was despite then Prime Minister Theresa May pledging that she would first agree “a UK approach and objectives for negotiations”.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 – which instituted the UK's departure into law – was also passed without Scottish consent. The Institute for Government called this an “unprecedented assertion of parliamentary sovereignty to push through a bill that directly amended the terms of devolution”.

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EU enlargement a ‘geostrategic intrument’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 09/05/2022 - 11:02pm in

I think this FT article is worth highlighting. It reports an interview with the current Austrian foreign minister and former diplomat in Brussels, Alexander Schallenberg.. He suggested that: … the bloc should consider granting neighbouring states rapid access to “parts of the common market” and to selected EU institutions and programmes as a transitional process... Read more

WTO Communication from the Chairman of Council for TRIPS on May 3, 2022

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/05/2022 - 1:36am in

Tags 

trade, WTO

This new TRIPS text from the WTO, it’s generally the same as the earlier leaked text, but now with two brackets, one on the definition of eligible countries and the second one regarding requirement to list each patent in non-voluntary authorization.

COMMUNICATION FROM THE CHAIRPERSON. The following letter was received by the Chair of Council for TRIPS on 3 May 2022 and is circulated to Members at the request of the Director-General.

TRIPS-WTO-ip-c-w-688-3may2022

Also available on the WTO web page here, along with a press release here.

Earlier commentary on the QUAD’s TRIPS proposal.

The post WTO Communication from the Chairman of Council for TRIPS on May 3, 2022 appeared first on Knowledge Ecology International.

UK Officials Rub Shoulders with Sanctioned Russian Arms Firms at World Defence Show

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/04/2022 - 9:00pm in

Experts cast doubt on the logic and morality of the Government’s decision to attend a Saudi arms fair alongside firms held responsible for the devastation in Ukraine

In early March, as Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine entered its second week, senior British officials attended a Saudi arms fair during which state-owned Russian firms flogged its weapons – the very weapons that were killing and maiming Ukrainian civilians and soldiers.

This week, Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin attempted to excuse the UK’s attendance at the World Defence Show, claiming that the Government officials’ visit to the arms fair was vital to dissuade buyers from purchasing weapons from Russian firms. 

In response to a parliamentary question by Labour MP Sam Terry, Quin said: “We believe that a senior UK presence at such events is important to impress upon potential purchasers that alternatives may exist to acquiring Russian weapons. In doing so we hope to deter support for the Russian arms industry, economy, and potentially armed forces.”

But arms trade experts have found Quin’s justification “hard to credit”. 

Kirsten Bayes, spokesperson for the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), told Byline Times: “The UK minister was trying to say a variant of, ‘if we don't illegally sell them weapons, the Russians will’, as if the morality or legality of the UK’s foreign policy should be set by how low the Russian regime is willing to stoop.”

Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a member of the parliamentary committee on arms export controls, was also unconvinced by Quin’s justification for attending the Saudi World Defence Show. He said: "I’d be interested to know how the minister actually deterred others from purchasing Russia goods at the show. Did he have UK officials physically placed at their stall?”

Russell-Moyle suggested that the Government should have instead used its close links to Saudi Arabia to persuade organisers to block Russian firms from exhibiting at the arms fair. 

Agents of War

Four of the six Russian exhibitors at the arms fair were companies, or subsidiaries of companies, that have been sanctioned by the UK Government following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. 

But the UK’s “toughest sanctions regime against Russia” – as promised by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – was not tough enough to deter Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials from attending the same three-day event as the blacklisted firms. 

One of the sanctioned Russian exhibitors was Rostec, the Russian-state owned defence and technology conglomerate. According to official Government documents, Rostec faced sanctions in the UK because the firm is a “major supplier of the Russian military”, and provides financial support that “could contribute to destabilising Ukraine”. 

Fellow exhibitor, Almaz-Antey, is also currently sanctioned by the UK Government because the Russian-state controlled firm “contributes to the destabilisation of Ukraine” by supplying weapons to the Russian army and separatists in eastern Ukraine. 

As the arms fair prepared to open, a 40-mile-long Russian military convoy advanced towards Kyiv. The tanks in that convoy are likely to have been produced by UralVagonZavod – another World Defence Show exhibitor sanctioned by the UK – making the firm a key player in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The state-owned company is one of the largest tank manufacturers in the world and has “contributed towards threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine”, according to the UK Government

A Government spokesperson said: “The UK Government has introduced some of the largest and most severe economic sanctions that Russia has ever faced, including sanctioning key defence sector organisations and banning the export of critical technologies. We continue to push the international community to act robustly.

“Events such as the World Defence Show provide important platforms for engaging international partners and senior UK representation is vital to pursue a range of Government objectives.”

Arming Riyadh

The Saudi regime’s military abuses in Yemen has led arms experts to raise concerns over the Government officials’ presence at the World Defence Show, hosted in its capital, Riyadh.

The Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, now in its seventh year, has resulted in “human rights abuses and laws-of-war violations”, according to Human Rights Watch

UN figures revealed that 377,000 people had been killed in the civil war by the end of 2021. More than 150,000 of these deaths were the direct result of the armed conflict, while a greater proportion have died due to hunger and disease as a result of the humanitarian crisis caused by the war.

Labelling the UK’s attendance “a disgrace”, CAAT’s Kirsten Bayes said that the UK’s participation in the arms fair was not intended to dissuade buyers from purchasing Russian weapons but to continue the Britain’s lucrative relationship with Saudi – the regime is the UK’s largest market for defence exports.

“It is clearly about keeping the arms sales flowing,” she said. “It is high time the UK stopped flooding the Middle East with weapons.”

£11 billion in export licences for military goods has been approved to Saudi Arabia since 2010 – comfortably the largest total of any country in the world – despite an attempt by the British courts to pause sales because of the regime’s crimes in Yemen. 

The Government is indeed keen to sustain this military relationship – according to a Government briefing document obtained by the Byline Intelligence Team under Freedom of Information – and even seeks to extend the influence of the Kingdom into other areas of the British economy.

Although Jeremy Quin claimed that the UK's presence at the World Defence Show was necessary to punish questionable regimes, in practice, MoD officials’ participation may in fact do the very opposite.

By rubbing shoulders with sanctioned Russian companies responsible for the devastation in Ukraine at an arms fair hosted by a state responsible for war crimes, Boris Johnson is effectively giving a green light to tyrants.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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Post-Brexit Britain: A Rotting, Corrupted State

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/04/2022 - 8:09pm in

Chris Grey explores why the UK’s departure from the EU cannot be separated from other challenging political and public developments in Britain today

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The refusal of Boris Johnson to resign, despite being the first sitting Prime Minister ever to have broken the law and despite all the lies he told about having done so, is shocking, but not surprising to even the tiniest degree.

That is partly because of his complete lack of moral character but also because it is both symptomatic and symbolic of the condition of post-Brexit Britain. 

Increasingly, it is necessary to speak of this as a ‘condition’ because, as time goes by, what is at stake is a diffuse and generalised climate rather than simply specific damage caused by Brexit. The word ‘condition’ is also apposite since it carries connotations of chronic illness: ‘long Brexit’, so to speak.

From this point of view, separating Brexit from other political and public events – especially the Coronavirus pandemic – is complicated, and of course this complication is used by Brexiters to deny or conceal the effects of Brexit. 

Typically, they deride discussion of these effects as the province of ‘continuity Remainers’ suffering ‘Brexit Derangement Syndrome’. It is worth reflecting on what that derision implies.

Presumably, Brexiters believe that leaving the EU will make long-term differences to the UK. If not, then why bother? But, if so, then why would it be deranged the discuss the effects? The obvious answer is because they have been so dire that they discredit the decision to leave. 

It is striking how, despite Brexit being a major and ongoing national change, it is so little discussed any more. Within this, there are two different issues.

The most obvious is that of recognising that almost all events have more than one cause. The huge queues at Dover over the Easter period are a good example. 

It is right to say that some of this is nothing to do with Brexit, for example Easter holiday traffic. But it is also partly due to staff shortages which are partly due to Brexit. It is also partly because P&O ferries haven’t been running, and that’s because of errors made by the new crews following the mass sacking to save costs, which in turn was because of the reduction in cross-Channel trade, and that was caused partly by Brexit. Some of it was due to the breakdown of IT systems, which was not a result of Brexit but the need for those systems is. All of this came on top of the ‘new normal’ of queues at Dover which is a direct result of the new border processes required by Brexit. And that was on top of pre-existing traffic problems which had nothing at all to do with leaving the EU.

The second issue is that, while most events have multiple causes, it does not follow that those causes are themselves independent of each other.

The Coronavirus crisis is again the most important example. It arrived as the UK formally left the EU and when the terms of future trade were beginning to be negotiated. So, just as every country in the world had COVID-19 in its own way according to its own particular circumstances, the way the UK had it was in the particular and unique circumstances of Brexit. Our COVID was ‘Brexit COVID’.

It is not just that both Brexit and the pandemic led to labour shortages and disruptions to trade and supply chains. It is that the Brexit we had was different because of COVID and the COVID we had was different because of Brexit.

For example, the Coronavirus crisis exacerbated staff shortages, as some EU nationals were leaving because of Brexit. It also meant that many EU nationals returned to their home countries, as they very well might have done regardless of Brexit, but Brexit made it impossible for them to return if they didn’t have settled status. In any case, it made them less likely to want to return.

Looked at from a different direction, the fact that the Brexit trade negotiations took place during the pandemic inflected them in particular ways – not least because at certain times key actors were ill, and because much of the negotiation had to take place virtually.

Similarly, the hostility of the Brexiters, including Boris Johnson, to any extension to the transition period – a hostility which pre-dated the pandemic – led to a refusal to do so despite the pandemic. With more time, a more comprehensive agreement might have been reached. Equally, much administrative bandwidth was taken up with ‘no-deal’ planning, just when it was needed for the Coronavirus crisis.

Then, when the deal was in place and the transition period ended just days later, the economic punch of Brexit was immediate; landing on the bruise of the ongoing pandemic and reducing our resilience to its effects in a way no other country experienced.

Certainly, it is the case that the UK’s response to the pandemic, including the current policy of effectively pretending that it is over and not making any significant attempt to handle its ongoing impacts such as those of Long COVID, has been inextricably intertwined with Brexit politics. 

The crossover of membership between the influential Brexiter European Research Group and the anti-restrictions, anti-lockdown COVID Recovery Group of Conservative MPs is a prime example. So is the pressure from anti-lockdown populists such as Nigel Farage who, as with Brexit, exert powerful influence upon government policy from the outside.

So it is not that there is Brexit and there is COVID, as two factors each having their own independent impact: Brexit policy and its effects are somewhat different because of COVID, while COVID policy and its effects are somewhat different because of Brexit. It is in this sense that the UK has had ‘Brexit COVID’, which forms part of the post-Brexit condition of the country. 

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A Poorer Country

Britain is a country going metaphorically and literally rotten.

Crops have been lying unharvested in fields since at least 2019 because of labour shortages, risking permanent damage to farming. At least 40,000 healthy pigs having been culled for lack of butchers. Delays caused by post-Brexit barriers to trade have meant that meat and fish become unsaleable as they sit for hours in traffic jams. These are not ‘teething troubles’ – the transition period ended more than a year ago.

Staff shortages are now endemic, meaning quite basic things are becoming difficult or impossible to do. They are part of the reason for the crisis in the NHS. The HGV driver shortage, so much in the news last year, persists. There aren’t enough staff for everything from the Border Agency to restaurants, construction to buses. Almost daily there are reports of huge delays in things like driving licence and passport renewals or granting probate on wills.

There are any number of such examples and almost everyone is surely noticing how many of the things we used to take for granted just don’t work properly any more.

Simply raising wages isn’t the answer – that may pull staff into one sector, but only at the expense of another. And, in the absence of productivity increases, it only contributes to inflation, which is also caused in part by the extra costs to business of Brexit trade barriers.  

It is perfectly true that this isn’t just happening in the UK. But it is happening in particular ways here.

It would be different if the UK had not ended freedom of movement of people and introduced new barriers to trade. It might have been different if it had not, at least in England, dispensed too early with all Coronavirus protections and scrapped COVID sick pay provisions, under the influence of anti-restriction Brexiters.

It is also true that many of the UK’s problems pre-date both Brexit and the pandemic. But, again, the point is that they come on top of, and exacerbate, these problems. It is the layering of one factor on top of the other – with Brexit, uniquely, the entirely self-inflicted and avoidable factor – which is rotting our country away.

There are good reasons to think that this rot will continue.

Labour market figures show significant increases in economic inactivity over the past two years among the over-50s, including sharp rises in early retirements especially for skilled and professional workers. Long COVID is one important reason but, anecdotally, disaffection with Brexit and the derogatory treatment of ‘Remainer’ professionals labelled the ‘liberal metropolitan elite’ also plays a part.

Again, it is possible to see similar trends in other countries, but they impact post-Brexit Britain in specific ways. They contribute to a stripping-out of experience and expertise which can only make daily life more difficult. To take an important example, there are sharp rises in GPs taking early retirement and warnings of a 'mass exodus' within the next five years. Even if it is denied that Brexit has anything to do with these trends, they would not matter so much if there were not also skill shortages because of Brexit.

What cannot be denied is that Brexit is having a major negative impact on trade with the EU, with knock-on consequences for the entire economy, including tax rises. For while here, too, COVID and increasingly the war in Ukraine are also having an effect, several studies have shown that it is relatively easy to separate out the specific damage of Brexit. Quite simply, Brexit is making our country poorer.

Against this, the benefits of Brexit could be weighed – if there were any significant examples. But those which have been claimed are either very limited, yet to materialise, or nothing to do with Brexit at all.

The latter includes the most common false claim of a Brexit benefit, namely the vaccine roll-out and, more recently, the nonsensical suggestion that leaving the EU has allowed Britain to ‘lead on Ukraine’. Most justifications for Brexit now simply take the form of claiming that it has been less damaging than some of the direst predictions or that it will deliver its benefits at some vague point in the future.

Meanwhile, basic services no longer work properly and whole industries are in crisis. Even the long-term viability of the Union is in doubt, with the Northern Ireland peace process seriously strained. Entirely predictably, pre-referendum promises to match EU structural funds for regional development in England are also being broken.

A Corrupted Body Politic

Inseparable from this malaise is the parlous state of our political institutions. Which brings things back to Boris Johnson’s refusal, aided and abetted by his party, to resign. This latest example of moral rot symbolises an entire country going rotten; its entire national strategy now founded on the lies, delusions and fantasies of Brexit. 

The Prime Minister is both the foremost and yet the least important manifestation of this rot. For, while it is a cliché that the ‘fish rots from the head’, his departure would not in itself improve things: the rot has now gone too deeply into the body politic because it doesn’t just come from Johnson’s moral depravity. 

It comes from Nigel Farage’s blokey racism, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s faux-patrician sanctimony, Gisela Stuart’s earnest spitefulness, Michael Gove’s oily sophistry. From the decades of screaming tabloid headlines about immigration, and the lachrymose self-pity of suburban curtain-twitchers who ‘aren’t allowed to say what we think’. From the belligerent nationalism of beer-bellied thugs and blue-blazered golf club bores who can’t forget the war they don’t actually remember. From contrarian would-be intellectuals who can’t forgive being ignored by real academics and from free-market think tankers who have none of the knowledge of real business people. From dead-eyed hedge fund managers gloating over profits to be made and cold-eyed neo-Marxist ‘Lexiters’ dreaming of utopias to come.   

Those who complain of the rot are denounced as deranged or dismissed as obsessed. They are told that they must ‘move on’ and ‘get behind Brexit’. Yet, ironically, they are told to do this most loudly by those who equally loudly insist that Brexit has been betrayed.

The rot will only have a chance of being stopped when enough people agree that Brexit has in fact failed to deliver its promises, even if they continue to disagree about why. But, by then, there may not be much left untainted.

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‘Easter getaway rush’ – or not..

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 10/04/2022 - 8:13pm in

The BBC is at last reporting the lorry queues at Dover which it is suggesting is a result of the upcoming Easter holiday and the lack of P&O ships. According to Cieran, The Euro Courier: I made an error last night whilst doing the live video on the M20 – it wasn’t 14-15 miles of... Read more

How Johnson’s Government is Using Oligarchs in its Attempt to Rebuild the ‘Red Wall’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/04/2022 - 9:11pm in

Sam Bright and Sascha Lavin explore how the Government is inviting questionable regimes into Britain’s former industrial heartlands

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If the second half of the 20th Century and the first 10 years of the 21st represented the age of affluence in Britain and America, the period since the financial crisis of 2008 has been marked by stagnation and inequality.

In the UK, real wages have flatlined while state spending has been retrenched. Unlike the post-war period, when economic growth heralded an era of mass prosperity – a period of enduring abundance – the rising tide of GDP no longer lifts all boats.

With prosperity now in shorter supply, people pay closer attention to the concentration and imbalances of wealth – both in terms of social class and region. This was exposed through the Brexit referendum, with people in ‘left-behind’ areas of the country protesting against their relative deprivation – in terms of education, infrastructure and industry – compared to the UK’s thriving metropolitan hubs.

The architects of Brexit were scorned for predicting that the ‘dividends’ of the project would not be seen for decades, but there is a reason these gloomy forecasts didn’t repel voters in the 'Red Wall': people thought that short-term pain was necessary, in order to re-orientate an economy that didn’t serve their interests.

Since the era of deindustrialisation, the status quo has delivered the slow breakdown of pride and prosperity in these places. In their view, at least Brexit promised some light at the end of the long tunnel.

And, if Brexit has shown that raw economic growth is only valuable if it’s accompanied by certain terms and conditions, so has the war in Ukraine. The UK is now desperately attempting to decouple itself from the Russian economy, after the years it spent awarding ‘golden visas’ to Russian oligarchs and allowing Vladimir Putin’s men to exploit our courts.

As Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee said in its 2019 report on Russian interference in British politics:

“Russian influence in the UK is ‘the new normal’, and there are a lot of Russians with very close links to Putin who are well integrated into the UK business and social scene, and accepted because of their wealth. This level of integration – in ‘Londongrad’ in particular – means that any measures now being taken by the Government are not preventative but rather constitute damage limitation.”

In other words, even after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and annexed Crimea, the UK was both directly and indirectly fuelling Putin’s war effort. Short-term economic self-interest trumped human rights and geopolitical concerns – the consequences of which are now being felt by Ukrainians suffering and fleeing from genocide, and in higher energy prices on the home front.

However, it appears as though the UK Government is set to repeat its mistakes.

While the assets of foreign oligarchs – including and especially those from Russia – have been used to swell our all-consuming capital, these sources of morally dubious finance are now being channelled north.

Indeed, in a briefing paper obtained by the Byline Intelligence Team, relating to an October 2020 meeting between the Saudi Minister of Commerce, Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, and the UK’s Minister for Investment, Lord Gerry Grimstone, officials emphasised the commercial opportunities for Saudi firms looking to invest in the UK.

This was portrayed, by the UK officials, as a means of fulfilling the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

One of the top objectives of the meeting was to “promote the levelling-up agenda and the opportunities in the regions, including for the top Saudi companies their Government wants to see go global as part of their National Companies Promotion Programme”, the briefing paper states.

“There are significant opportunities, including as part of the levelling-up agenda, for star names like Saudi Aramco, SABIC, Saudi Telecoms, ACWA Power and others to come and invest in and grow their global shares/R&D potential in the UK,” it goes on to say – noting that a positive outcome would be to secure a “regional investment visit” from the Saudi administration “in support of the levelling up agenda”.

In mid-March, it was revealed that the Saudi firm Alfanar Group would be investing £1 billion into Teesside to produce sustainable aviation fuel. This followed the announcement in October that Saudi chemical company SABIC would be injecting £850 million into a Teeside chemical plant.

This policy was taken up by the Government’s long-awaited levelling up white paper – setting out the scope of its regional investment project – released in February, which emphasised the merits of foreign direct investment (FDI) into left-behind areas.

“The UK Government’s goal is to maximise the opportunities of its independent trade agenda for UK business,” it said. “Internationally mobile companies are among the most productive, innovative and high investing firms in the UK: UK businesses with inward FDI links were two-thirds more productive than businesses without an FDI link in 2018. However, over half of the UK’s inward investment stock is in London and the south-east.”

The logic behind this was epitomised by former Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry, who told BBC Newsnight: “The key to unlocking levelling up is to bring foreign direct investment into the north of England, so taxpayers in the garden of England or anywhere else in this country do not have to pay for all of it.”

Department for International Trade (DIT) records show that the Government has been holding a series of meetings in recent months with sovereign wealth funds and foreign investment companies, about directing their resources to the UK.

DIT records for the final quarter of 2021, for example, show that ministers met with the Saudi National Bank, the Kuwait Investment Authority and the Qatar Investment Authority to discuss ‘investment opportunities’ in the UK. All of these institutions are majority owned by their respective governments.

In March 2021, the UK’s Office for Investment and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company – owned by the Gulf state – also signed the UAE-UK Sovereign Investment Partnership (SIP), with the UAE pledging to invest £10 billion in technology, infrastructure, healthcare, life sciences, and renewable energy in the UK.

Mubadala invested £1.1 billion between March and September 2021, while holding a series of meetings with UK ministers, seven in total, over a six month period from February 2021. 

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Economic Kompromat

FDI is clearly important to the economic growth of a country. It is a dangerous myth – one perpetuated by Donald Trump in the US and some Brexiters in the UK – that a nation is able to be prosperous and entirely self-sufficient.

However, Putin’s war in Ukraine has shown the need to more closely align our economic and geopolitical interests – not allowing our commercial centres to be bought and compromised by the actors of hostile states.

The UK’s recent economic reliance on autocracies has been justified, politically, under the notion that liberal capitalism will calm the worst excesses of these regimes. However, in practice, integration has not led to moderation.

While Foreign Secretary in 2017, Boris Johnson said “we want to encourage Saudi Arabia down the path of reform and modernisation”. Yet this did not stop the Kingdom from murdering Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its consulate in Istanbul less than a year later – at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Just a few days before Johnson visited Riyadh in March this year, the Saudi regime executed more than 80 people, confirming the concerns of Amnesty International late last year, that accused the Saudi Government of launching a “relentless crackdown” on dissidents.

Saudi authorities “have brazenly intensified the persecution of human rights defenders and [have] stepped up executions over the past six months,” Amnesty said.

Qatar and Kuwait don’t have a clean slate, either, in terms of human rights abuses. More than 24,000 workers have suffered from human rights abuses on the projects devoted to the football world cup set to be held in Qatar later this year, while the Guardian reported last year that 6,500 migrant workers had died during the course of construction.

Human Rights Watch said in its 2022 report on Kuwait that authorities continue to restrict free speech and prosecute dissidents – including criminalising speech deemed insulting to the emir, its ruling monarch.

These are archetypal oligarchies, with state power and wealth amassed among a narrow band of influential families. The ruling Al Sabah family of Kuwait is estimated to be worth $360 billion, the House of Saud $1.4 trillion, and the House of Thani in Qatar some $335 billion.

Inviting investment from bodies attached to these families is therefore fundamentally different to encouraging the construction of a new factory by a Japanese car company or a German pharmaceutical giant. Unlike the German and Japanese firms, the sovereign wealth funds of Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have political interests as well as economic ones.

The question is therefore whether we want our infrastructure and our economy to be reliant on countries that do not share our core values – states that are perpetuating abuses in the present day, regardless of the crimes that they may commit in the future.

This is an issue agitating the Conservative Party – but largely focused on the case of China.

There was a Conservative rebellion after the Government decided to allow a role for the Chinese tech company Huawei in the construction of the UK’s 5G network – a backlash that forced a Government U-turn. This is an ongoing concern, continuing this week with the takeover of Newport Wafer Fab – a semi-conductor supplier – by Nexperia, a company with links to the Chinese Communist Party.

“We are, seemingly, handing over critical security infrastructure to overseas companies with well-documented links to the Chinese state,” Conservative chair of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, has said in response – with his colleague Iain Duncan Smith calling the sale “ridiculous”.

However, perhaps due to financial self-interest – the Conservative Party has raised substantial amounts of cash from foreign oligarchs in recent years – it hasn’t lifted its gaze beyond the corrupting influence of investment linked to the Chinese state.

As a result, the Government is actively incubating new versions of Londongrad – creating silos of foreign states in the former industrial midlands and north. Following the lead of the capital, these areas are becoming safe havens for the wealth of oligarchs and an insurance policy for foreign governments seeking geopolitical leverage against Britain and the West as a whole.

Boris Johnson recently spoke of the “freedom” sought by Brexit voters – in comparison to the convictions of those repelling Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. It seems unlikely that these voters had foreign economic dependence in mind, when they plumped for Johnson’s project.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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Official Documents Show Government is Falling into Another Russia Trap – With Saudi Arabia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 04/04/2022 - 10:10pm in

The Byline Intelligence Team has obtained internal official briefing notes showing how the Government is making overtures to Saudi Arabia on multiple fronts

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Speaking at the Conservative Party Spring Conference last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed to have learned a valuable lesson in geopolitical relations.

Referencing the West’s response to Vladimir Putin’s 2014 invasion of Crimea, in eastern Ukraine, Johnson said:

“I know there are some around the world... who say that we’re better off making accommodations with tyranny. I believe they are profoundly wrong and to try to renormalise relations with Putin after this, as we did in 2014, would be to make exactly the same mistake.”

Yet, when it comes to engaging with Saudi Arabia, Johnson’s administration is doing the very thing he warned against. The Government is making accommodations – and even overtures – to a regime that is responsible for a catalogue of human rights and military abuses.

Documents from a meeting in October 2020 between the Saudi Minister of Commerce, Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, and the UK’s Minister for Investment, Lord Gerry Grimstone, seen exclusively by the Byline Intelligence Team, reveal the Government’s desire to develop a close relationship with Saudi Arabia – a policy that was further pursued during the Prime Minister's recent visit to the Kingdom in March. 

In Riyadh, Johnson adopted the same 'see no evil' approach that the UK Government has previously taken with Russia, in a bid to ramp up energy exports to the West – a response to the Russian President's invasion of Ukraine, and a domestic cost of living crisis.

Responding to a question about the execution of three people by the Saudi state as he arrived in the Kingdom, Johnson said: “In spite of that news you’ve referred to today, things are changing in Saudi Arabia. We want to see them continue to change and that’s why we see value in engaging with Saudi Arabia and why we see value in the partnership."

Johnson mirrored the remarks made a decade earlier, in 2011, by his predecessor David Cameron during an address in Moscow. He said: “We can rebuild the relationship between Britain and Russia, working together to develop a modern and ambitious partnership which will help both our countries achieve a more prosperous and secure future.”

These were also attitudes shared by Johnson. Despite the Salisbury poisoning in 2018 and the annexation of Crimea, Johnson, as Foreign Secretary, still wanted to “regularise contact” with Moscow. In fact, three years after Putin invaded Crimea, Johnson told his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, that the UK and Russia had “substantial interests in common”

Now, details of a 2020 meeting between the Department for International Trade (DIT) and Saudi officials obtained under Freedom of Information show that the UK risks falling into the same trap by fostering links with a regime that is notorious for its human rights abuses, including the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, war crimes in Yemen, and a crackdown on Government critics.

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Newcastle United

How the Saudi regime came to own an 80% stake in Newcastle United via its sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), has puzzled football fans and human rights activists alike. 

It has previously been revealed that Government ministers and officials held meetings with the Saudi regime about the protracted Newcastle takeover (completed in October last year) – although the UK has insisted that “officials were clear... that any prospective takeover of Newcastle United Football Club was a matter for the two parties concerned”.

Now, however, the DIT’s notes from the October 2020 meeting reveal that the Government may have played a greater role than previously disclosed.

The first objective on the DIT’s briefing document for the meeting states that “the Newcastle deal is still possible”. It adds: “HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] would encourage a resolution which addresses the underlying (legal) matters to the satisfaction of all parties concerned.”

Despite then Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden claiming that it was for the Premier League alone to make assessments regarding the acquisition of Newcastle United by PIF, DIT officials were told to express to Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Commerce that the UK Government would “encourage” the purchase.

It has previously been revealed that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman warned Boris Johnson via text message that UK-Saudi relations would be damaged if the UK Government did not help the sovereign wealth fund to acquire Newcastle United.

Levelling-Up

The DIT also saw the October meeting as an opportunity to further embed Saudi links in the UK by encouraging Saudi firms to help with the Government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda. 

Controversial oil giant Saudi Aramco was listed in the briefing note as one of the firms that the Government hoped would invest in the most deprived areas of the UK.

Saudi Aramco is the firm that contributed most to global carbon dioxide levels from 1965 to 2017, according to the Climate Accountability Institute, which somewhat contradicts Johnson’s aspiration to position the UK as a world leader in the fight against climate change.

“There are significant opportunities, including as part of the levelling-up agenda, for star names like Saudi Aramco, SABIC, Saudi Telecoms, ACWA Power and others to come and invest in and grow their global shares/R&D potential in the UK,” the document reads.

Aramco also has a history of workers’ rights controversies: the firm was accused of allowing racism against one of its migrant staff members, after they were dressed as a “human hand sanitiser” at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic. The company released a statement expressing “strong dissatisfaction with this abusive behaviour”.

In 2012, employees of the company were also allegedly dismissed after protesting for civil rights.

In mid-March, it was revealed that the Saudi firm Alfanar Group would be investing £1 billion into Teesside to produce sustainable aviation fuel. This has echoes of the UK’s economic policy towards Russia that – until recently – encouraged close cooperation between firms in both countries and even downplayed the influence of sanctions imposed after 2014.

Defence

As Boris Johnson defends Ukraine’s freedom and hopes for peace, meeting documents from 2020 highlight Saudi Arabia's appetite for weaponry and the UK’s desire to comply. 

The DIT briefing states: “As is well-known, Saudi is the UK’s largest market for defence exports.” Hoping to continue this lucrative relationship, UK officials confirmed their desire “to make the UK presence centre stage with a strong ministerial showing” at the World Defence Show, held in March this year. 

£11 billion in export licenses for military goods has been approved to Saudi Arabia since 2010 – comfortably the largest total of any country in the world, with the second-placed US standing at £6.3 billion, ahead of France at £4.6 billion.

In other words, Saudi Arabia represents more than a-fifth of the military export licenses granted by the UK since 2010 – despite the country’s inclusion on the Government’s human rights watchlist.

Indeed, in total, two-thirds of military export licenses granted by the Government since 2010 have been directed towards human rights problem countries.

Many of these arms have been used in the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, now in its seventh year. Schools, hospitals and weddings have been targeted, according to the Yemen Data Project, and the conflict has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

The UN has estimated that the war in Yemen had killed 377,000 people by the end of 2021. More than 150,000 of these deaths were the direct result of the armed conflict, while a greater proportion have died due to hunger and disease as a result of the humanitarian crisis caused by the war. 

At the time of Johnson’s visit to the Kingdom, Saudi Arabia had killed or injured almost 800% more civilians in Yemen from explosive violence than Russian forces (and Russian-backed separatists) have harmed in Ukraine, over the last decade, according to data from Action on Armed Violence

Arms sales to the Kingdom quickly resumed after a landmark court ruling in 2019 forced the UK Government to pause sales because of the regime’s crimes in Yemen. 

The DIT maintains that the UK operates “one of the most robust and transparent export control regimes in the world”, a spokesperson told Byline Times. Before the arms are traded, an assessment is made on the “clear risk that the items might be used for internal repression”.

Britain’s relationship with Saudi Arabia shows that Boris Johnson hasn’t learnt from the Government’s past mistakes. As was the case in Russia, there is little prospect of Saudi Arabia becoming a more cooperative partner for Western governments, even as we increase economic ties.

This stands in contrast to the approach of the Government, expressed in another document obtained by the Byline Intelligence Team relating to the meeting between Ken Costa – the UK’s special representative for Saudi’s ‘Vision 2030’ initiative – and the Business Secretary, in March 2021.

A briefing document for the meeting says that Costa “has established links with key players in the Government of Saudi Arabia and advocates working behind the scenes to support modernisation and reform”.

The UK’s policy of integration didn’t tame Vladimir Putin – why would it tame Saudi Arabia? 

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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The Flawed Logic of Extreme Australia Free Trade Deal Optimism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 28/03/2022 - 9:31pm in

Ben Ramanauskas critiques the outlandish ideas of influential Brexit economist Professor Patrick Minford

Several weeks ago, Professor Patrick Minford of Cardiff University – one of the most influential economists in pro-Brexit circles – claimed that the UK’s free trade deal with Australia would be worth £69 billion to the UK economy, the equivalent of 3% of GDP. These views have been parroted by the Daily Express, under the call for people to “stop moaning about Brexit”.

Minford bases this claim on a number of outlandish assumptions – not least that Australia will be able to provide all of the UK’s food, leading to a decrease in food prices by 2%, thus making UK farming unviable, leading to a drop in land values, and meaning that we start putting land to ‘better use’ by building houses and factories.

With all due respect to Professor Minford, this is absolutely bonkers. Primarily, he offers no evidence for these flawed assumptions other than his own economic modelling, which he expects us to accept as being more reliable than the analysis conducted by the Department for International Trade and other organisations.

Minford attempted a response to my initial critique last week. Although it was unconvincing, failing to address any of my points, the fact that he doubled down reveals that he doesn’t understand modern international trade.

Minford is either ignorant of how modern international trade works, or he has chosen to deliberately not believe it. The majority of his arguments as to why a free trade deal between the UK and other countries would bring huge benefits stem from an old-fashioned and rather simplistic view of the economics of trade.

Minford’s economic model is based on the classical understanding of economics and trade first elucidated by Adam Smith and David Ricardo. It was Smith who showed that the reason nations become wealthy is not the gold they hoard but because they engage in free trade, while it was Ricardo who developed the concept of comparative advantage.

Both Smith and Ricardo are correct, but this is not the full story. Comparative advantage is important, but as history has developed so has our understanding of trade and economics. When assessing the potential benefits of trade deals, economists use something called a gravity model – showing that, as with objects in space, size and distance matter.

Therefore, countries are more likely to trade in high volumes with countries or blocs that are large, and are close to them, than they are with countries that are far away and small. This is one of the reasons why the Government’s own analysis suggests that the deal with Australia will only offer modest economic gains.

Minford seems to have real issues with the gravity model as he seems to genuinely believe that it is a device that is biased in favour of the EU and is being used by ‘Remoaner’ civil servants to undermine Brexit and diminish free trade between the UK and non-EU countries.

A further sign of his outdated thinking is found in his response to my article in which he claims that the gravity model must be wrong due to the huge economic benefits which resulted from changes in trade policy. Minford is right, the end of the Second World War saw the dawn of the international rules based system and brought into being organisations committed to free trade and liberalisation, some of which were the earlier forms of institutions such as the EU and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The reason why we saw huge economic growth in this period is precisely because of this liberalisation, with tariffs and subsidies replaced with free trade.

However, it is disingenuous to point to that era of liberalisation and compare it to a free trade deal with Australia. Tariffs on the vast majority of non-agricultural goods are already very low. As such, a free trade deal with Australia – or any other country for that matter – which simply lowers tariffs on a few products, is unlikely to bring huge economic gains. Minford is not the only person who has this outdated view of international trade, with Spectator political editor James Forsyth arguing that the Government should temporarily cut tariffs on non-agricultural products in order to tackle the cost of living crisis.

This is not to say that trade deals are not worth signing – far from it. We should just not expect deals which focus on tariff reduction to bring huge economic benefits. Rather, the UK should seek to tackle non-tariff barriers in trade negotiations and at the WTO. Dismantling other barriers to trade could bring significant economic benefits to the UK and the rest of the world.

Free trade is great – it has brought wealth and prosperity to the UK and many other countries around the world. The Government is right to want to strike new trade deals and promote free trade, but it should do so based on reality, not the outdated and fantasy economics of the likes of Patrick Minford.

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Global Britain is missing..

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/03/2022 - 7:03am in

I point this out not actually for its wry humour – or even maybe for its correct approach: But simply to point out that Global Britain is somehow missing. How quite extraordinary – or indeed remarkable… Who would ever have suspected?... Read more

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