Monday, 28 April 2014

Liberal Democrats stand up for British trade & jobs; UKIP and Eurosceptic Tories pretend you can have your cake and eat it

Following a number of Twitter exchanges about trade with Eurosceptics (mostly UKIP supporters), I decided I needed a bit more than 140 characters to properly address this crucial topic.

As a Liberal Democrat, I am a supporter of UK membership of the EU for many reasons including the benefits of being part of the world's biggest single market. Being inside a huge borderless market of 500m consumers is good for British companies, British jobs and British consumers. The UK also benefits from over 70 trade agreements that the EU, negotiating as the world's most powerful trade bloc, has secured with countries across the globe. 

Right now, when the UK economy is beginning to turn a corner, the last thing the country needs is to jeopardise this recovery by pulling out of the EU. In this respect, the Liberal Democrats are the only party standing up and fighting for EU membership and what it means for British jobs; the Tories are too divided to take a position, Labour lacks the courage of its convictions, and we all know where UKIP stands.

Eurosceptic trade myth no 1: no jobs are linked to EU membership so none would be lost if we left

A study published a few weeks ago ( shows that over 4 million jobs are linked to Britain's membership of the EU, which given that 50% of our exports go to other EU countries, isn't entirely surprising.

This doesn't mean that if we leave the EU, all those jobs disappear overnight, but it means those jobs are directly linked to our ability to trade (buy and sell) with other EU countries as part of the world's biggest single market.
In particular, the UK is very good at attracting international companies to set up here as a springboard to the EU single market, for example the Japanese car companies Nissan, Honda and Toyota.  

These companies may not go as far as leaving the UK in the event of the country exiting the EU (although we cannot be sure of that), but uncertainty about future EU market access would at the very least push them to slim down their UK operations to serve only the UK market rather than producing for export across the EU. 

I want the UK to remain an attractive destination for foreign investment of the kind that has just seen Siemens announce plans to create over 1,000 jobs in Hull in the renewable energy field.


Eurosceptic trade myth no 2: we can leave the EU and retain the same trading relationship because "we buy more from Europe than they buy from us"

This is where it's easy to expose a gaping hole in Eurosceptic rhetoric. While the UK buys more goods from the rest of the EU than we sell, the opposite is true of services, which represent 80% (!) of the British economy. The UK exports far more services to the rest of Europe than they sell to us.

This is why our financial services sector (among others) is very worried about a potential EU exit as they fear the massive loss of business that would result from being locked out of the single market in financial services ( ).
UKIP and Eurosceptic Tories are doing their best to hide this rather vital fact by repeating the "they sell more to us" line without explaining that they only mean goods and not services. Only the week before last on the Sunday Politics show, UKIP candidate Patrick O'Flynn was made to look rather foolish when BBC journalist Andrew Neil had to spell out the facts of British trade in services to the rest of the EU to him; O'Flynn gave no answer. I have since tweeted him several times about this, but he doesn't respond; one suspects either because he cannot or because a truthful answer reveals the weakness of his party's arguments on trade.
China also sells more (goods) to the UK than we do to China, but I don't think anyone would be foolish enough to claim this would give the UK the upper hand in trade negotiations with China. However, Eurosceptics would have you believe the UK (1 country, market of 60 million) would be able to hold the rest of the EU (27 countries, market of over 440m) to ransom. Pretty had to believe isn't it? Well unless you are living in the past and think the British empire still exists....

Eurosceptic trade myth no 3: we can have a free trade deal with the EU

It is possible to trade with the EU without being a member country through a free trade deal. The most recent deal that came into force was the EU - Canada trade agreement, which removed a number of tariff and non-tariff barriers, for example in the food sector, which was good news for the British food industry.  

However, what UKIP/Eurosceptic Tories do not want people to know is this: no EU free trade deal ever negotiated gives full access to the EU single market. Nigel Farage mentioned Mexico's trade deal with the EU in the Nick versus Nigel debate; a trade deal which excludes specific sectors and products, such as dairy, grains and sugar, but of course he didn't mention all these exclusions, wonder why? 

The EU-US trade deal (TTIP), which is likely to be the most significant trade deal ever negotiated, will not come close to allowing American companies full access to the single market. Even the Swiss with their 120 (!) bilateral agreements with the EU do not have access to the single market in services.  

So which sectors of the economy do UKIP and Eurosceptic Tories want to let down by locking them out of the world's biggest market? Does they think the British people are foolish enough to believe you can have your cake and eat it? I credit the British public with far more common sense than that!

Eurosceptic trade myth no 4: we can join the EEA; trading with the EU, but free from Brussels rules

Some UKIP supporters and Eurosceptic Tories claim that we can join the EEA (European Economic Area), which are countries that are part of the single market, but outside the EU like Norway, thus allowing us to trade with the EU as freely as we do now, but with no "interference" from Brussels. Sounds too good to be true doesn't it?  

The UK may be able to join the EEA, but what would the implications be? As an EEA member, the UK would have to: 

   contribute to the EU budget (the "small contribution" Nigel Farage says Norway pays is actually over 80% of the British contribution per head of the population), but have no say in how it was spent; 
   implement EU laws that would be decided without British MEPs and British government ministers at the table in Brussels shaping those laws. 
Or in other words the EEA option means "out of Europe, but run by the EU". As Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament and former Belgian PM once said "You're either at the table in Brussels or you're on the menu". I know where I would prefer the UK to be.

Even the Norwegian Foreign Minister himself has warned the UK against leaving the EU, saying his country had to put up with "regulation without representation".


Eurosceptic trade myth no 5: we can be like the Swiss

The other option for the UK (advocated by Tory Eurosceptic MEP Daniel Hannan, who is at least honest about the impossibility of a mythical have-your-cake-and-eat-it free trade deal promoted by UKIP), is the Swiss option of negotiating sector by sector/policy area by policy area cooperation with the EU.  

This has so far resulted in Switzerland signing some 120 (!) bilateral agreements with the EU. Each time there are significant changes in relevant EU policy areas, Switzerland needs to update its bilateral accords with the EU or initiate new ones. Despite hundreds of agreements with the EU, Swiss companies are not free to buy and sell services in the single market; imagine what impact that would have on the UK which has a trade surplus in services with the rest of the EU. I would rather not thanks! 

To monitor EU developments, the Swiss government and Swiss business and civil society representatives are present in Brussels following virtually everything the EU does in order to adapt themselves to it. The Swiss lobby the EU institutions when decisions are being made that will affect Switzerland, but without the benefit of having Swiss MEPs and Swiss government ministers to fight their corner, unlike the UK whose MEPs and ministers are on the ground doing just that. Well, except UKIP MEPs who don't bother with the hard graft of standing up for British interests day in, day out.  

I was amazed to find Swiss government representatives attending a meeting in the European Parliament on alcohol policy. I was informed by one of them that "any changes in EU alcohol policy will affect us, so we need to monitor the situation". This is a policy area where the EU has very little legislative power!
This sounds like the worst of both worlds to me; having to follow what the EU does and change your own policies accordingly without benefitting from full access to the single market.

Eurosceptic trade myth no 6: EU membership hampers the UK in global trade

The argument goes something like this: the UK is "not free to trade with the rest of the world" due to being part of the EU. This argument seems to assume firstly that EU and global trade are mutually exclusive; ie you cannot do both, which is somewhat economically illiterate. Selling to customer A does not prevent a business from selling to customer B too.  

Whenever I ask Eurosceptics why German companies manage to sell far more to emerging markets like Brazil than British companies apparently unhindered by the same EU membership that is "holding back" the UK, I don't get any coherent answers.
UKIP talk about trading more with the Commonwealth and even go as far as claiming that joining the EU destroyed trade with Commonwealth countries. The truth is that trade with Commonwealth countries had been declining for many years before the UK joined  what was then the European Economic Community in 1973.
Commonwealth countries set free from British colonial rule naturally started to trade more with their neighbours than the more geographically distant UK. It is no surprise that Australia's biggest trading partners today are China and Japan ( I do not know how anyone could seriously suggest that Britain leaving the EU would reverse this 50 year old trend.  

In addition, the vast majority of Commonwealth countries have trade deals with the EU and Commonwealth governments  such as Australia and Canada say they want the UK to remain part of the EU. UKIP and Eurosceptic Tories are so backward looking, they cannot see that our relationship with the Commonwealth has changed, and we cannot go back to being an imperial power on whose empire the sun never sets.  

Another false claim is that the trade deals the EU makes with the rest of the world with its huge negotiating strength as the world's biggest trade bloc somehow disadvantage the UK. Britain's leading exporters would tell you a very different story - UK exports to South Korea have increased substantially since the EU-SK trade deal, for example.  

In addition, the UK is very good at getting British trade priorities reflected in EU trade policy, for example, one of the products targeted in the EU - India trade negotiations is whisky! Roberto Azevêdo, Director General of the World Trade Organisation stated that Britain risks losing influence in trade negotiations if it left the EU ( and you would expect he knows a bit about global trade. 
Even the winner of the "Brexit" essay competition, much fêted by Eurosceptics, says that outside the EU, the UK would be able to negotiate global trade deals, but this would not be from a position of strength. Or look at it this way; the USA is currently negotiating a free trade deal with the EU which will require both parties to adapt to each other's trade rules, while the US - Chile free trade deal requires Chile to adapt to US trade rules, but not the other way round. 

And finally... 

Another argument that UKIP and Eurosceptic Tories put forward is that the UK should leave the EU because the EU's share of world trade is declining, so it's an outdated concept. It is true that as large emerging markets like Brazil, India and China grow, the share of world trade of the EU (and other industrialised countries like Japan) is shrinking.  

However, there are two huge caveats here. Firstly, this is not a quick process of change, which means that the UK still currently sells more to Belgium (!) than Brazil, so it would not be sensible to turn our back on our EU trade partners right now.  

Secondly, and even more importantly, if current trends continue, then some estimate that 30 years time, there may be no European country in the G8,  but the EU will remain the world's largest single market. So in fact, the Eurosceptic argument against the EU is actually one of the biggest arguments in favour!  

In the future, European countries can retain a strong voice in global trade by acting togetheras part of the EU. I do not want the UK to be on the sidelines without a voice at that moment, but a leading member of the EU. 
As a Liberal Democrat I want to look to the future, protect Britain's economic recovery, retain a strong British voice in global trade and fight for British jobs. The Eurosceptics want to hark back to an imperial past long gone that can never be recovered, ignore the realities of the modern world and put Britain's economic recovery in jeopardy.  

The choice is clear for anyone who cares about the future of the UK; it's In Europe In Work with the Liberal Democrats or out Out of Europe Out of Work with UKIP and Tory Eurosceptics.



Monday, 10 February 2014

Outdated, outmoded and increasingly inaccurate: is it time follow our European neighbours and say goodbye to "Miss"?

It has long been unfair that women can be identified by their marital status through the use of  "Miss" or "Mrs" whereas men cannot via "Mr". "Ms" was introduced as an alternative for both married and unmarried women, although is not universally used or liked.

Many journalists struggle when a married woman doesn't take her husband's surname, as seen in numerous articles referring to Nick Clegg's wife Miriam González Durántez as "Mrs Clegg" despite that not being her name. Wikipedia even says "Miriam Clegg, known professionally by....." !!?? Why is it so complicated to understand that Miriam was given a surname at birth (actually two as per Spanish custom) that she will use for her whole life? That's what men do....

I have also noticed newspapers calling married women who have kept their own name "Miss". When the tabloids revealed then Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's husband's expense claims, many rather oddly referred to a woman they knew was married, as "Miss Smith" !!?? It's as if they think a woman who keeps her own name isn't properly married or something (dinosaur alert!).

Anyone would think that not taking your husband's surname on marriage was something new, unusual and shocking. It isn't new at all, although it was when my Mum did it some forty (!) years ago in 1972. Like other women of her generation, my Mum kept her name because she didn't like the historical significance of taking your husband's surname, namely that you became his property.

It is not unusual for women to keep their own name these days; currently 50% of married women do, while 50% opt to take their husband's name. There is also a trend, albeit somewhat middle class, for women to add their husband's name to their own and sometimes give that double barrelled name to their kids too.

The fact that people marry later and the vast majority of women work, surely has an impact; changing surname in your 30s involves not only bureaucracy (replacing driving licence, passport, credit cards etc), but also several years of explaining your name change in a professional context. I have seen linkedin profiles along the lines of "Jane Smith (nee Brown)" that stay like that for years.

There is then the associated bureaucracy of changing your name back to your "maiden" name, should you be unfortunate enough to get divorced and not want to keep your ex-husband's name. I also know a handful of women who still have the name of their first husband although they have since divorced and re-married. Divorce also raises another question: should a divorced woman stop being called Mrs and revert to Miss even if she still has her husband's name or only if she changes her name back?

A friend who did not change her name when she married was very annoyed to receive a cheque payable to a person who doesn't exist (my friend's first name with her husband's surname). She had to take her marriage certificate to the bank (!) to pay it in as obviously neither her bank account nor any ID she possesses, is in the name of her husband.

So what do other European countries do? Well in Belgium, where I used to live, an adult woman is officially "Madame" (in French) or "Mevrouw" (in Dutch) and almost always in conversation too; I recall being called "Mademoiselle" only very occasionally when in my early 20s. In Germany "Frau" is now used for all adult women, the German version of Miss ("Fraulein") seemingly consigned to history or used only for little girls.

In the European Parliament, I am referred to as Madame/Frau/Mevrouw etc and this is even extended to English, where "Mrs" is used in written and spoken communications. At first I found being called Mrs when I am not married, a bit odd, but I soon got used to it.

Another aspect of using "Miss" is that it applies to cohabiting women with children who have not married their partners, which seems rather inaccurate i.e. it no longer necessarily identifies a single (childless?) woman. A friend who is the deputy head of a primary school is in theory still "Miss", despite living with her partner for more than 15 years and having two children.

A cohabiting friend with children wondered (in the days when marital status was commonly on CVs) whether putting "single" was misleading. That particular problem is now solved by the fact that marital status is no longer included on a CV. In Belgium civil status ("état civil" in French) was removed from ID cards some 10 years ago, which greatly pleased a divorced friend who hated the fact that her ID card said "divorced" rather than reverting to "single".

So I wonder if it is time to get rid of "Miss" given that as well as being outdated and outmoded, its use is increasingly inaccurate? The obvious route would be to follow what Belgium does, so all adult women would become "Mrs". However, I wonder if some married women, who rather like using Mrs to show that they are married, might object to this? Comments welcome!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Use of electronic cigarettes: blanket bans are not appropriate!

I am hearing about blanket bans on people using e-cigarettes on public transport and in some public places like bars and pubs e.g. Wetherspoons, etc. I have even seen a notice banning the use of e-cigs in a comedy club where you can eat and drink while watching the show!

 Let's try to avoid blanket bans

Some of the reasoning behind these bans is a bit poor, for example:

  • "Staff have to impose the indoor smoking ban and might confuse them with real cigarettes". This *may* apply if the vaper was very far away from the staff member and using a "cig-a-like" rather than a "sonic screwdriver" type device. So in a large understaffed venue, perhaps this could apply, but in a small venue or a larger one that was well-staffed, the staff would clearly see that the person was vaping not smoking. 
Does this look like a fag?

  • "Other customers may see someone using an e-cigarette and think they can smoke". I find this a bit dubious as the indoor smoking ban has been in place in England and Wales since 2007 and in Scotland since 2006 and there has never been the remotest suggestion that the law was going to be changed. Are there really smokers out there who think that you can still smoke inside? I doubt it.
  •  "We don't know the harm e-cigarettes cause". This is a sign of a person being poorly informed or mis-informed, as while the jury is still out on the effect of long term use (to have long term use studies, you need long term use...), independent experts can say with confidence that e-cigarettes are infinitely less harmful than tobacco and the possible health dangers that have been identified are minor. In addition, as e-cig users exhale mostly water and flavouring, there is no such thing as passive vaping.

I can see the logic for bans in certain areas, for example in a school except in the staff room where only teachers can enter, or in a hospital ward, but not in the canteen, cafe or public waiting areas of the hospital. As well there being no danger of second hand inhalation or harm, the vapour doesn't smell bad, although in a very poorly ventilated or confined space, I could see that it might bother some people. In a workplace context, someone vaping in a client facing role would look unprofessional, as would for example eating; you wouldn't expect a receptionist to greet you with a mouthful of food!

I am wondering what solutions could be proposed in order to stop organisations panicking and instituting blanket bans on ecig use, which in some cases may oblige vapers who have quit smoking tobacco to go and stand with the smokers and inhale their second hand smoke (bit unfair that!). 

My ideas are:

1) Vaper etiquette - eg always check that it's OK to vape if there is no information to inform you either way. I know some vapers already do this in bars and pubs and have generally found it a good approach and have almost never been refused permission.

2) A case by case basis - ie that each organisation considers where it might be appropriate to vape and sets a policy appropriately. So in a hospital, it might be OK to vape in the reception area (not for staff!), the cafe and the canteen, but not on a ward.

3) Allowing vaping unless there are serious objections. I think from comments I have already seen on Twitter, some are concerned objections might be based on false information i.e. that the person thinks they can be harmed by another person's e-cigarette. I think the confined space and ventilation issue could be relevant here. 

I am a lifelong non-smoker and I hate to breathe other people's cigarette smoke, not only because I don't like the smell or taste of tobacco or the harm that comes with it, but also because tobacco smoke makes me cough and dries my eyes out thus iritating my contact lenses. However, although I don't vape, I have no problem with people using e-cigarettes around me, but if there were many vapers in a confined space or a place with poor ventilation, I think I could find it a bit unpleasant and on one occasion this gave me a slight headache. 

4) Consult users - ask e-cig users and others who use a building/venue what they think. I could imagine for example, that most people would not mind a colleague using an ecig in the office kitchen or canteen, but not in a meeting room or office. I have also spoken to ecig users who said they would never vape at their desk or in a meeting.

5) (a suggestion via David Dorn on Twitter): Designated vaping area e.g. part of a carriage on a train or certain rows of seats on a bus, presumably with the proviso that you cannot vape elsewhere. Some trains have quiet carriages, but enforcement is patchy as I've been in quiet carriages where people make loud phone calls and no-one objects, yet on one occasion a colleague and I got told off by another passenger for talking quietly to each other!

Comments and suggestions most welcome.