Brexit and TTIP: The false myth of sovereignty in 2016 referendum

A Stop TTIP rally in Bristol, Flickr, Global Justice Now

‘Always keep a hold of nurse for fear of finding something worse.’

The choice between the Brexit and the Remain campaigns is seen as a referendum between the status quo on one hand, and on the other, democratic national sovereignty at the cost of either brief or deep economic uncertainty. The Leave claim that their intention is to reclaim democracy from the anti-democratic emporium of mandarins in Belgium, but internally the Leave campaign has very different understandings of democracy, and very stark hopes for Britain following our secession from the EU.

If, ideally, Farage would see Britain standing in splendid isolation. Alternatively, going on what Boris Johnson has previously stated, the ex-mayor would simply to replace one ‘supranational body going over the top of a nation state’ with another less accountable and unelected private alternative in TTIP.

The Brexit lobby is divided on the issue of TTIP, the controversial proposed American Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Farage and the UK independence party (UKIP) have denounced the agreement, with Farage calling it ‘a dream for CEO’s and big multinationals but a disaster for ordinary Brits’. Documents recently leaked by Greenpeace from the negotiation indicate that far from simply establishing international tariff reductions, TTIP would in fact ‘more resemble a scheme for international governance like the European Union’ (Curtis Ellis, The Hill).

The documents indicate the motive to ‘lessen the protections on the environment, consumer rights and other posi-tions the EU affords its citizens’, (Andrew Griffin). To give a brief flavour of this negotiation which may affect the society of the United Kingdom as definitively as the June referendum here are a few of its premises: Article 11.2 means any change in financial regulation which will affect the prospective future profits of financial service providers may be challenged, not in our criminal courts, but in “extra-judicial” tribunals, (irrespective of whether these firms are British or foreign) and even when regulations are enacted to remedy a crisis. The rulings of these tribunals, or ISDS, may not be appealed and they are not open to labour unions alleging violations of the agreement. They are open only to international investors, the large corporations. TTIP has been described by John Hilary, the executive of War on Want, as ‘an assault on European and US societies by transnational corporations’. However, Boris Johnson has stated he thinks there is ‘absolutely nothing not to like about the TTIP’.

However, while Nigel Farage claims Britain’s membership of the EU allows ‘the likes of President Obama and Goldman Sachs’ to ‘deal with and lobby unelected EU presidents and commissioners directly [to] push the TTIP agenda’, French and German governments have already shown signs that ‘they will pull the plug on TTIP’. Ironically for Farage one of the greatest supporters of TTIP is Boris Johnson.

In 2014 Boris Johnson wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph called ‘This trade deal would have Churchill beaming’. On the 6th June he made the admirable statement that it is ‘morally and practically completely wrong to make any sacrifice of Democracy’. However, he considers the agreement which allows ‘banks and other financial institutions to use provisions in the proposed partnership to block new regulations that cut into their profits’ (David Dayen): ‘a massive potential win for humanity’. While the Tory Clown Prince states ‘the absence of democratic control is having disastrous consequences both for Britain and for the whole of the EU’ he advocates a trade agreement which checks the ability of legislators to enact laws without being sued by corporations. The man exhorting us to ‘Hold our own and vote for freedom’ would let unelected and disinterested robber barons ‘regulate in the public interest’.

The Leave Campaign is made of Laissez-faire Conservatives who’ve made a pact with xenophobic nationalists from UKIP for political power, and the people of Britain are stuck between a rock and the deep blue sea. But, Boris once wrote too that if the EU can’t pull off TTIP, Britain should go first and do it ourselves. This seemed to me an excellent reason for staying.

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