Lib Dems vs Brexit: Wera Hobhouse Dangers of post Brexit deregulation

It was not until 12:40 am that Wera Hobhouse was called to give her speech in the Commons debate on the Brexit deal. She highlighted the uncertainties in the PM’s blind Brexit and talked about the dangers of a post-Brexit deregulation on the environment and trade.

We have come a long way since June 2016. There is no more hiding from the fact that any Brexit will leave us worse off and that the best that any post-Brexit Government can do is damage limitation. If we go ahead with Brexit, we will have to find new ways of stimulating the economy. No longer bound by EU rules, those who argue for slashing regulations will quickly gain the upper hand. The race to the bottom will soon begin.

Among the first regulations on the bonfire will be those that protect the environment. The European Court of Justice, so hated by Brexit fanatics, has been an outstanding protector of environmental laws and ​regulations. The Government’s recent draft environment Bill does not include a watchdog with anything like the power of the ECJ, and climate action will lose out. There will be an increased incentive to support fossil fuel companies for short-term economic gain. Green energy projects are becoming increasingly affordable and promise long-term economic gain, but they still require up-front investment and will therefore be the first victims. Who would provide such investment in a struggling post-Brexit economy? Once more, climate action will lose out.

A post-Brexit Government will be under huge pressure to sign off new trade deals quickly, which will be a great opportunity for any country to take advantage of our weakened position. A trade deal with America, for example, will most likely involve opening up our economy to fracking companies. Even if we tried to build environmental protections into such deals, the reality is that commercial interests will be dominant. The case of Lone Pine Resources v. the Government of Canada shows what awaits us when we enter into trade deals with more powerful nations. The Government of Quebec put a moratorium on fracking in 2011, but Lone Pine Resources has sued for over $100 million of lost profits under the terms of the North American free trade agreement. Outside the EU, our power to protect ourselves against the interests of large global companies will be much diminished.

The European Union is an international heavyweight when it comes to striking trade deals, but it has not struck a trade deal with America precisely because it refuses to give up its own standards in areas such as environmental protections. Thanks to its power as the world’s largest and most successful trading bloc, the EU has the economic clout to walk away from trade negotiations that are not in its interest. On our own, we will have nothing near the same clout. Even if we tried to protect our environment, our resolve would quickly collapse as the urgency to find new trading partners would force our hand.

No form of Brexit will halt that race to the bottom—not the Prime Minister’s blind Brexit deal, which offers no legal guarantee against future deregulation, not a no-deal Brexit, and not even the softest-of-soft Norway-plus Brexit deals. Brexit is a fundamentally right-wing project. It seeks to deregulate our economy and hand the reins to powerful vested interests. It is political fantasy to think we can go ahead with Brexit and mitigate its worst effects. In the light of the right-wing Brexit agenda, the only option for all of us who are progressive is to oppose Brexit as a project. There is no point in tinkering with it.

Climate action has always been about social justice. In the 21st century, the battle to save our planet is inseparable from the battle to limit the power of big business and build a better world for all. I call on all progressive politicians in this House to see Brexit for the right-wing project it is. We can stop Brexit, and the democratic path to it is a people’s vote with the option to stay in the European Union.

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3 Comments

  • The ISDS component in NAFTA allows independent arbitration rather than biased national courts and should be supported. It was the far left and far right who are opposed to ISDS in TTIP and CETA – precisely because they are economic nationalists.

  • Richard Underhill 20th Jan '19 - 12:22pm

    Long serving MP Ken Clarke (not to be confused with Greg Clark) said in the Commons that in one of his many ministerial jobs he was advised by the British embassy in Washington that TTIP could not be called a ‘free trade deal’ because Congress was deeply opposed to free trade.
    This was before the Make America Great Again campaign of the current US presidency.

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