If the Brexiteers wanted to 'take back control', they should be worried about CETA

Image credit: Max Pixel

As March approaches, and May is expected to pull the trigger that will formally remove Britain from the EU, uncertainty still abounds as to what Britain’s new economic and political ties to Europe will look like. The PM has made one thing clear however: Soft or Hard Brexit, Britain will be a country that is “no longer part of a political union with supranational institutions that can override national parliaments and courts.”

Unfortunately for May, the European Parliament’s vote on the ratification of CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) on 2 February might trap Britain in an economic agreement that does all the things she claims to be freeing the country from.

CETA is an agreement that boosts trade at the expense of EU member-states’ sovereignty. 98% of the tariffs between Canada and the EU will be removed, “benefitting businesses and consumers in both the EU and Canada” according to the European Commission’s website. Businesses, consumers, but not governments. You do not have to be a protectionist or economically literate (I am neither) to sense that there is something odd about such a drastic removal of tariffs.

Sinister would be a more adequate term than odd. In order to force governments to swallow this free trade miracle ‘cure’, CETA would ensure that business can sue governments but not vice-versa. By creating a whole new legal entity, the supra-national International Court System (ICS), CETA allows foreign corporations to take governments to court for nothing more than a mere loss of profit.

The ICS would shield privatisation and effectively criminalise a government’s basic right to intervene in the market economy to improve its citizens’ well-being. How can the UK government protect the NHS if it risks being sued for millions of pounds by private health firms? This treaty would essentially force governments to sacrifice their citizens’ interests at the altar of free trade. Clearly, there is no free will underlying CETA’s free-trade policies. 

Organisations such as Global Justice Now, the UK’s anti-CETA platform, are not isolationist or protectionist as their name shows. Global Justice Now’s constant contact with other platforms around Europe distinguish them from the racism and xenophobia often associated with the far right.

The effects of CETA’s implementation is where the danger lies for European liberal democracies, including the UK. If CETA is ratified on February 2, it will paralyse state sovereignty, giving European populist parties real firepower to push their anti EU-agenda, along with the rejection of multiculturalism and pluralism this entails.

CETA’s poorly disguised bias towards corporations has led to protests within the EU itself. On 8 December 2016, the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) voted against CETA, citing concerns regarding the “Investor Court System which would create additional rights for investors, without providing anything meaningful in response for workers.” The parliament of Wallonia, a region in Belgium, blocked the signing of the treaty for two weeks until political manoeuvering outlasted its opposition.

According to the latest analysis, Brexit will not save the UK from CETA. Global Justice Now asked a postgraduate law student to detail how CETA’s ratification would affect Britain. The answer was clear: “If the UK does not withdraw from the EU until after CETA has been ratified it will apply for 20 years.”

Both the Leave and Remain camps have much to be concerned about if this agreement is ratified. Government, be it Labour or Tory, is incomparably more reliable to provide adequate health care and labour protection than profit-driven multinationals like Exxon.

Unfortunately, citizens will have no say on what goes on behind the scenes in Brussels. All we can hope for is that governments refuse to abdicate their responsibilities to those who have elected them.

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