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But them in Westminster are just puppets

October 3, 2014

Published in Dorset Echo, 2nd October under title ‘Trade Treaty Secret’

Richard Denton-White and others have called for democratic reforms, but there is one thing that Richard’s otherwise excellent letter ‘Time for Real Democracy’ (Tues 30 Sept) leaves out and that is international trade treaties. One major trade treaty has more influence on our lives than a dozen Acts of Parliament. In fact the latter are often driven by the former. Furthermore the UK ratifies a treaty (i.e. agrees it shall come into force) without parliamentary approval, and usually without parliamentary debate. This is unusual; the USA and most European nations for example require their legislators to debate and approve (or not) all treaties. Suppose for example the UK and Germany had a disagreement about some details in a treaty that was under negotiation, Angela Merkel might ask David Cameron if he couldn’t give way on that one little thing; must it be a deal breaker? Cameron might give way. But if it was the other way round then Merkel would laugh and say, “Sorry Dave; no way could I get that past the Bundestag and the Bundesrat”. So why don’t we change?
One reason is that the leadership of the major parties want to hold onto the trappings of power, but I believe the more powerful reason is that they are more beholden to their paymasters than to the people. It is a mistake to think of trade treaty negotiations as primarily a contest between national governments; rather it is a contest between them and giant trans-national corporations which show no loyalty to the state in which they happen to be registered.
The major treaty now being negotiated between the EU and the USA is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). It is being negotiated in the utmost secrecy and if heads of government sign up to it, MPs will have just 21 sitting days in which to read it and, if so minded (which they never are), vote to block it for another 21 days. If MPs had to vote to approve it before it could be ratified, then there might be a real debate, which who knows might even be covered on the BBC and so most people might get to know it’s happening.
If we had a proper voting system then MPs might have to pay attention to voters rather than their party bosses.
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