Lobbying is billion-euro business in Brussels: conglomerates, corporations and campaign groups have long lined the pockets of fat-cats and bureaucrats in an attempt to sway parliamentary policy. Situated in offices surrounding the European Parliament, subsidiaries of big-brands regularly decant millions of euros into the gawking mouths of MEPS, in an effort to shape, create and even generate the laws ratified by the European Commission.
British American Tobacco has long been a forerunner within the policy-shaping sector: located mere minutes from EuroParl awaits seven full-time lobbyists, who’s purpose is to weaken and wane the parliamentary proposals that may injure profits within the tobacco sector. As those who recall ‘Dalligate’ will attest, this industry has significant pull in Brussels; in 2012, it was revealed the former commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, had demanded 60m Euro from lobbyists; in return, he pledged to overturn a ban on Snus.
The tobacco lobbyists’ recent endeavours have left the Foreign Office caught in a major row concerning a senior official and one of the world’s poorest countries: Bangladesh. It appears Britain’s high commissioner to Bangladesh, Alison Blake, funded by BAT lobbyists, has informed the Bangladeshi government that British American Tobacco will not be fronting the £170 million VAT Bill owed to the country.
In a letter to Blake seeking her support earlier this year, BAT boasted of its “proud history of more than 105 years of investment and revenue contribution in Bangladesh”, thus believing themselves exempt from complying with the country’s tax system. Blake echoed these sentiments, reiterating the supposition the London-based company was exempt on grounds that BAT paid more to the Bangladeshi exchequer than any other company last year.
Blake’s response to Bangladesh speaks to a rhetoric employed by a plethora of tax avoiding fat cats, many of whom reside on our Western front. Each year, multinationals avoid paying between £38bn-£158bn in taxes in the EU using tax havens. It comes from an inherently holier-than-thou C-suite reasoning that by contributing to the economy through employment, bureaucrats believe they have settled their tax bill.
Tax revenue on tobacco products has become Bangladesh’s primary source of revenue: the money is both rightfully owed and urgently needed. BAT have filed accounts containing £14,751m in reported revenue: the company are hardly on the breadline. Despite this, BAT will escape on the legally sound but morally reprehensible clause asserted by Blake in her letter to Bangladesh, that UK government legal positionality on back-paying tax is there is “no scope to hold the manufacturer liable to pay VAT on a retrospective basis”.
BAT is no stranger to scandal, having faced scrutiny for debacles in both Pakistan, 2015 and Panama, 2013. After the Panama incident, the UK Foreign Office was forced to re-issue guidelines affirming officials are acting unlawfully when ‘engag(ing) with foreign governments on behalf of the tobacco industry, except in cases where local policies could be considered protectionist or discriminatory’. Officials were also reminded BAT trade under WHO regulations, which inadmissibly states governmental officials cannot act in favour of the tobacco industry.
Stewing within a cess-pit of lobbyists, EuroParl’s brash with scandal is far from unordinary: parliamentary procedure is seeped in hot-pot of trade-offs and pay-offs with tobacco multinationals holding the spoon. Transparency and lobbyists exist in stark confliction; Brexit may be gripping the headlines, but its shrouding the dodgy deals and deplorable pacts of Brussels. These deals seek to asphyxiate some of the world’s poorest nations, sparing firms like BAT some small change.
Proposed during an interview with The Independent, the comment accompanied a series of damnations concerning May’s ‘chaotic’ handling of Brexit thus far. Through the damning diatribe, Verhofstadt made clear his prevailing ambivalence toward May’s attempts at negotiations. Terming her recent loss in the General Election an ‘own goal’ that had served to exemplify the UK’s rejection of her ‘Hard Brexit’ plan, Verhofstadt concluded ‘other voices should be listened to’ as talks proceed henceforth.
The newly appointed ‘Brexit Point Man’ (though this title awaits accreditation by the EuroParl Website) criticised the current tumultuous spate of Brexit affairs, calling for increased transparency, less cherry-picking and an exiting strategy more in line with the British people’s current positionality.
His critique appears largely concerned with the appointed negotiations team; this predominantly composited of David Davis. Continuing his conversation with The Independent, Verhofstadt proclaimed: “I believe the negotiations should involve more people with more diverse opinions”; when asked whether this should include opposing Party leaders, a spokesperson for Verhofstadt replied ‘Absolutely’.
Yet, while Verhofstadt calls for a more ‘diverse’ set of voices, he seems to have forgotten Corbyn’s historically staunch anti-EU mantra; paradoxically, Corbyn’s long-held Euroscepticism naturally aligns itself with that of the current negotiators.
Let this not serve as an anti-Corbyn animadversion; yet, while he may have supported Labour’s Remain campaign, the Labour leader has always been a Leaver. Much cynicism was ascribed to Corbyn throughout the lead-up to the referendum, where speculation of his loyalties proved thematically prevalent in a multitude of publications.
This conjecture arose from Corbyn’s previous voting track record concerning EU matters. Having voted to leave the European Economic Community in 1975, condemning the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 and stating the EU had “always suffered a serious democratic deficit” upon voting against the Lisbon Treaty in 2008, the papers quite rightly questioned the validity of his Remain campaign.
Corbyn’s distaste toward the EU is largely attributable to the economic and monetary union it enforced. The merger, Corbyn believes, “takes away from national parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers who will impose the economic policies of price stability, deflation and high unemployment throughout the European Community”.
These sentiments still ring true today: echoing his Maastricht Treaty concerns, last month Corbyn, in a vitriolic response to May’s wanting to remain within the single market condemned its validity, axing three Labour frontbenchers who dared to vote in favour of remaining within.
Perhaps here lies the reasoning behind Verhofstadt’s proposal: Verhofstadt, a federalist, wants a cohesive Union in which all countries subsist on the same terms; Corbyn wants out of the EU, all benefits included. Verhofstadt would rather have none of the UK in Europe, than fragments of it – regardless of whether this benefits the EU economically or not. Corbyn evidently feels the same.
Playing like putty in Verhofstadt’s federalist fingertips, Corbyn today stated: ‘The single market is dependent on membership of the EU’ believing ‘the two are inextricably linked’. He has become a mouthpiece for the faction of MEP’s in Brussels who want rid of the UK in its entirety.
I suppose my original trepidations concerning Brussels (pre-Boris and Farage’s tyrannical assault and exacerbation of the spate of Immigration) were largely composite of the economic vice that I had perceived to have been suffocating us. I felt ambivalent toward bailing out Greece; I despised paying the salary of MEPS.
However, it would appear remaining within the Single Market would prove intrinsic in maintaining some form of fiscal stability within the UK; thus, some form of relationship must be salvaged.
Concurrently, Corbyn’s reasoning for exiting the single market proves rather problematic: his standpoint could be easily transposed unto the issue of freedom of movement. This policy is wholly dependent on membership of the EU; so will we lose it? Will we turn away the thousands of wonderful Europeans who have made home here in London? Upon this supposition, I can without equivocation impugn his choice to vacate the single market, and thus refute the need for his presence during negotiations.
The pound has plummeted, austerity has asphyxiated us; is this really the time to turn away our last hope at economic consistency?
Theresa May’s new governmental ally, Arlene Foster, preserves a plethora of policies seemingly inconsistent with the British mantra. The DUP, holding a mere 10 seats in the commons, may have previously been of little threat to parliamentary matters; yet, now in bed with the Vicar’s daughter, Foster finds herself at the helm of public policy.
Loyal to a doctrine seeped in Catholic rhetoric, the DUP maintain a generally antediluvian opposition to the progress of societal reforms upon the UK Mainland. Northern Ireland is the only remaining faction of the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage is not legal, the DUP having quashed efforts at reform utilising a controversial veto mechanism to block any change to legislation. Their efforts were dictatorial in essence, overriding a majority who had voted to pass the motion.
The DUP’s inherently dogmatic process extends unto the matter of abortion. The procedure remains a criminal act within Northern Ireland, providing no concession in light of rape, incest or choice. The punitive legislation, that harks back to 1967, states that abortion is available if ‘there is a risk of a real and serious adverse effect on a woman’s long-term physical or mental health’. The guidelines are suffocating the country, with Doctors, midwifes and nurses reporting they operate within a ‘climate of fear’, daily facing imprisonment if caught offering mere advice to desperate women. A staggering 3,400 Irish women travel to England for the procedure each year. The DUP’s Arlene Foster’s future intentions regarding abortion were made clear this past election, in which she vowed to retain total ban on terminations.
The danger involved with such rhetoric is microcosmic of the DUP’s political formula – a statement clarified via a mere glimpse at similar political endeavours across the Atlantic. Commanded by two parties who’s policies are largely comparable, much Republican support is garnered purely upon its ‘pro-life’ stance. The question plagued the campaign trail, with the pro-choice Trump having jumped ship to the safety of pro-lifers, fearing his ruthless Republican fan-base would waft adrift from his presidential harbour. Trump truly leapt in style, telling MSNBC ‘there has to be some sort of punishment for the woman’: his statement quite probably won him the election.
The subject of abortion plagued my year abroad. Studying in Chicago during the election, I witnessed a ceaseless interrogation that trickled down from the upper echelons of Supreme Court Justice appointings, filtered through day-time talk shows and flooded university classrooms. The perpetual debate ‘are you pro-choice or pro-life’ reared its ugly head in almost any setting: from lunches to lectures, the question cultivated an interminable presence in innumerable forums. My conclusion? The land of the free wants to be the home of the controlled.
Following Trump’s ascension to the White House, the subject of abortion remained present on the pursed lips of America. Subsequent to the November election, thousands of Chicagoans descended upon Wabash Avenue to heckle the Trump Tower. Embroiled in a common contempt the crowd gesticulated placards and spat harmonious slurs, hurtling hatred toward the colossal structure. Perhaps the most striking call was the plea ‘My body my choice’, a chant that ran through the impassioned mouths of men, women and children much akin to an entreaty. The phrase was unreservedly arresting: in essence, it calls for the government to respect a woman’s sense of personal agency. It became apparent that I had found myself within a nation upon the cusp of commanding ownership over my physical self – a facet of government entirely alien to modernity within the Western world.
And that is really the issue at heart: choice. A government’s law-making regarding abortion is microcosmic of its entire agenda. The subject matter is not simply ‘are we legalizing abortion’; it is, ‘am I permitting women to make a choice’. Will the DUP recognize women as self-governing, self-asserting, self-sufficient persons? Or will we succumb to micro-managed subservient vessels unable to control the body we inhabit.
The DUP’s inability to concede on abortion is intrinsically militant in nature: it is a means of control. As persons of a liberal society, we must recognise this method of power has potential to seep into other aspects of our daily life. If the DUP cannot trust a woman to make an effective choice regarding her own body, what else will they not trust us with?
Arlene Foster: let us remain a nation of choice?