Big Business Dominates Brexit Negotiations
Brexit ministers in the UK had six corporate lobby meetings for every one meeting with civil society groups, says Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Deep divisions remain over the role that the European Court of Justice should have in Britain following the exit from the European Union. These divisions show little sign of softening and were more exposed on Thursday after the U.K. Brexit Minister met with EU negotiators in Brussels. This comes at a time when opposition to the extreme executive powers granted under the Great Repeal Bill continues to mount. A new report from Corporate Europe Observatory and the Global Justice Now says, “For every meeting with the NGO, the EU’s Brexit Task Force met 10 corporate lobbyists.” Joining us from London to discuss the role of the European Court post-Brexit as well as the Great Repeal Bill and their latest report on the matter is Nick Dearden. Nick is the director of Global Justice Now, which is a U.K.-based public interest social justice organization. Nick, good to have you with us.
NICK DEARDEN: Thank you very much.
SHARMINI PERIES: Nick, let’s start off with the latest analysis on the role of corporate lobbies dominating Brexit negotiations. In the report titled “Big Business Britain: How corporate lobbyists dominate secret meetings with Brexit negotiators in London and Brussels” explain your findings in that report and what is most alarming.
NICK DEARDEN: Well, what we found, we looked at the last six months’ of meetings that have been held by both the Brexit Minister and also the Trade Secretary, and what we found is the Brexit Minister has met, for every public interest representative that they meet, they meet six business representatives. Mostly big business representatives. In the trade department it’s even worse. For every one public interest representative it’s nine big business representatives. What we find is, huge decisions are being taken about the future of this country because Brexit will change everything, effectively change our Constitution. Yet, the overwhelming number of people that are influencing this process are, surprise, surprise, big businesses. In fact, we find especially big finance around the table regularly with government ministers. You’ve got people like Goldman Sachs, four meetings. HSBC, six meetings. TheCityUK, a big financial lobby group, eight meetings. Meanwhile, the two biggest trade unions in this country had only one meeting each. Overwhelmingly, other voices are being drowned out by the transnational corporations who want this to work in their interests.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. What would you say to those who might argue with you that EU is a collection of businesses, and Brexit poses far-reaching consequences for businesses and millions of employees that they employ, thus that they should be involved in these discussions?
NICK DEARDEN: Oh, of course, and nobody’s saying they shouldn’t be involved in the discussions. I think when you have them influencing the discussions in a way that so outweighs everybody else, public interest groups, trade unions, consumer protection groups, environmental groups, indeed public universities, many representatives of the public sector also, completely overwhelmed by meetings with big businesses. It’s clear that they’re not just one participant at the table but they’re actually increasingly the interests of some big businesses, some big corporations in this country, are having way more influence, way more power of these negotiations than anyone else, that’s going to massively shape the type of country that we become after Brexit. One of our main concerns is actually we’re going to be looking at a Brexit which is about low regulation, lower working standards, lower environmental standards, lower consumer protection standards, because that’s in the interest of some big businesses. What you effectively see is those big businesses are shaping the whole way that our country operates. That’s a real problem.
Actually, I’d say as well it’s an underestimate of the amount of influence that big business has got because this is only the stuff that we’ve got that’s on the record. Actually, many of the institutions and organizations that we counted as public interest groups are actually effectively think tanks for the business lobby, far right, libertarian think tanks that actually represent the business interests far more than they represent what we agree describes the public interest.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Nick, on Thursday the Guardian reported that more than 70 charities, NGOs and trade unions along with rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Liberty, and Friends of the Earth, I believe, have joined a formal alliance to push back against the Great Repeal Bill. Nick, can you just remind us here on the other side of the pond about the Great Repeal Bill, what is it apt to do? And it’s being called the Henry VIII Powers in Britain. Give us a sense of what that bill allows them to do today.
NICK DEARDEN: This is the biggest piece of legislation that’s ever passed through the British Parliament. Essentially what it aims to do is translate all European law into British law. They say, “Well, we need to do this, because of course on the day that we leave the European Union we don’t want to have a black hole in our legal system. We want to have all the law as it currently exists.” So they’re translating it all over. “Fair enough,” you may say. The problem is, in translating this law over they need to do more than just replace the initials EU with the initials U.K. They need to make decisions because we’re going to be withdrawing from all sorts of institutions that keep this law alive and enforce it and so on. You can’t simply say, “We’re pulling out of all of the enforcement mechanisms that allow Human Rights Code to actually mean something.” You have to replace them with something.
Now, the problem is how do you do that because you’re having to do that across a massive spectrum of different sorts of law, from workers’ rights, to environment, to human rights law, and so forth. Essentially they’re going to do that by giving Ministers very, very large amounts of power to make decisions outside of Parliament as to how those laws should be transposed. They’re extensively using something we call Henry VIII Laws. Henry VIII, you probably know, was a famous English monarch from the Renaissance period, especially known for executing several of his wives. Quite a tyrannical figure. He invented certain laws to get around having to go to Parliament to get them to sign off all sorts of things that he wanted to do. So Henry VIII Laws are essentially a way of the executive making decisions outside of Parliament’s full scrutiny and accountability. This will be used in the Great Repeal Bill as things stand more than it’s ever been used in peacetime before.
Government ministers will have serious amounts of power to reformulate how laws exist and how they’re implemented. That really, really worries us. We’re saying, “You need extra scrutiny for this period of time when you’re transposing such enormous amounts, such enormous quantities of legislation.” We don’t want Parliament signing away it’s power and allowing ministers to do this behind the scenes, because what it could mean is they’re cutting our ability to enforce this law and keep this law up to date for the foreseeable future.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. If certain ministers are allowed to write these bills and corporations have so much influence in the process and with them in particular we have no idea what will come out, give us a few more examples of what one could expect if they actually exercise the Henry VIII and the mega Repeal Bill here. What can we expect?
NICK DEARDEN: Well, let me give you an example. One of the pieces of law that’s going to be transposed is going to be about the condition under which people are allowed to work in this country, and particularly there’s stuff in there around discrimination at work. You have legal rights in terms of not being discriminated on the basis of gender or race in the workplace. Now, that stuff all exists in European law, that’s going to be transferred to British law. The problem is, the institution that enforces that at the moment, we won’t be party to them. Effectively, the enforcement mechanism for all of this law that means that you could seek justice if you’ve been discriminated against at work will disappear. What will it be replaced with? Well, we don’t know yet. We’d like to have a public debate and a Parliamentary debate about that. Actually, what we fear is that those decisions will be made by ministers. What they may decide to do is simply come up with an institution which is less effective. A less effective way of somebody getting redress if they’ve been discriminated against at work.
That’s just one example in many, many, many other examples concerning our water quality, and the quality of our seawater around our islands, the quality of the food that we eat. The amount of toxins we’re allowed to have in our cosmetics and so on. Many, many, many issues that effectively are tied to a group of institutions at the moment that will cease to have any legitimacy in this country after Brexit. Essentially, you could have ministers making decisions about how these things are to be enforced and how they’re to be adjudicated upon after Brexit without the requisite Parliamentary and public scrutiny.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Let’s change tracks here to the debate over the role of the European Court of Justice in the U.K. Some of the most recent proposals and statements from the British government appear to suggest that they would accept a role for the European Court of Justice after Brexit, at least for an interim period. At the same time, however, the Prime Minister, when visiting a factory in Guildford proceeded to state that, following Brexit, what we’ll have exactly is that the government’s position will be on the ECG, she actually says that … Actually, I don’t want to preempt her saying it, so let’s listen to what she had to say.
THERESA MAY: When we leave the European Union, we will be leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. What we will be able to do is to make our own laws, Parliament will make our laws, it is British judges who will interpret those laws and it will be the British Supreme Court that will be the ultimate arbiter of those laws.
SHARMINI PERIES: What is exactly the position of, say, Global Justice Now in terms of this, as well as what is the position of the government? It seems all very unclear in relation to the European Court of Justice.
NICK DEARDEN: It’s unclear on this as it’s unclear on everything else. We hear one Minister say one thing one week and then we hear another Minister say almost the opposite thing the next week. So it’s really unclear. The European Union said, “Look, we really need to know where you stand on these issues so that we can come up with a negotiating stance and we can have discussions around it.” It’s so difficult for them to do that. You heard that, the Prime Minister said, “We want nothing to do with the European Court of Justice on the day after Brexit.” However, if the European Court of Justice isn’t there, for example, to adjudicate differences that we may have over trade policy or regulations of stuff that we’re selling into the European Union, who will adjudicate on those issues?
One of the things we’re worried about is that the adjudication of the European Court of Justice will be replaced by adjudication by some kind of an investor state dispute mechanism system just like you see in trade agreements like TPP and TTIP. You have these courts that are only open to foreign businesses to try to sue governments when those governments do something the businesses don’t like. We’re worried one of these will get put into any trade deal that we do with the European Union. Certainly the British government has always liked these things in the past, the European Commission has tended to like them, but not quite as much as the British government. You could actually be replacing what is a professional, normal court system, the European Court of Justice, with essentially an investor state dispute system which is only about giving voice to foreign big business to get its own way.
On a lot of these issues, it’s really unclear. We’re worried that we only have 18 months now to negotiate these things. All sorts of things could be negotiated in that time, but any normal period would require years and years and years of proper public consultation debate, and these things could just be waived through under Executive Power. The Prime Minister talked there about Parliament being able to make our laws. Parliament’s always been able to make our laws, actually. Parliament can, if it wants, leave the European Union. It’s proved that, by the recent decision, the triggering of Article 50. The triggering of that decision to leave. Actually, what we’re worried about now is that Parliament is being curtailed from its ability to scrutinize and make our laws because the Executive is being handed such enormous amounts of power.
When it comes to discussing trade agreements with the United States, with the European Union, with other countries in the world, at the moment Parliament has no power whatsoever over those trade agreements. It can’t stop them, it can’t set a mandate, it can’t amend any trade deals, go back to it, it has no right to see any of the negotiating papers. What we’re looking at here, both in terms of the Great Repeal Bill but also across the board, is a huge Executive power grab, taking power from Parliament and putting it into the hands of government Ministers.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Nick, very interesting transitionary period here where a lot of things could be inserted and where the public and people could lose their interest in the process. I thank you so much for joining us.
NICK DEARDEN: It’s a pleasure.
SHARMINI PERIES: We look forward to further analysis from you as this process proceeds. Anyway, have a good weekend and we’ll see you soon.
NICK DEARDEN: Thank you very much.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.