We have just had one of those surreal debates in the Commons where one side said that the only words in the Lisbon Treaty on climate change, all 6 of them – “and in particular combating climate change” – represented a useful advance since previous EU treaties didn’t mention it at all, whilst the other said it was empty rhetoric amounting to nothing in practice at all. A usual, the real problem is quite different.
The problem is that the EU, despite taking the world lead in tackling climate change, is not delivering. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has so far been an abject failure, the regulation of car emissions has been voluntary and therefore ineffective, aircraft emissions have been omitted from any regulatory scheme so that airline emissions are now rising extremely fast, and EU Member States have a burden-sharing arrangement for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in which only 3 of the original EU15 are on track to meet their targets by 2010.
In phase 1 of the ETS more permits to pollute have been issued than there is pollution so that emissions have actually risen, not fallen at all. But now that over-allocation is being stopped, another even bigger loophole is being opened up in phase 2. Member States will be permitted to ‘import’ Kyoto credits from developing countries to meet their carbon reduction targets. The problem is that many of these projects would have gone ahead anyway, so there is no additionality, and the credits will again actually increase pollution.
The Government have admitted that they are allowing for, and indeed expecting, two-thirds of the headline carbon emissions that they have announced as resulting from phase 2 in 2008-10 to occur outside the UK, and outside the EU as well. Worse, other Member States have set even higher import quotas than we have, so they will be able to import more than enough to meet their requirements and then to sell the rest on to the UK, no doubt at a nice profit. So phase 2 of the ETS may well not lead to any cut in emissions in the UK at all.
The truth is that the EU-ETS has been distorted into a massive scam. In phase 1, the power generators made more than £2 billions in windfall profits in the UK alone, by passing on the notional cost of carbon to consumers, even though they had been given permits for free. In phase 2, it is likely that the Kyoto mechanisms will be swamped by a huge over-supply of permits that will again lead to very low carbon prices and therefore little or no effect in cutting emissions.
The problem for the UK is that, despite all the anti-climate change efforts of DEFRA, other Government Departments continue to pursue distinctly pro-climate change policies – the tripling of airport capacity and the huge expansion of Heathrow, the virtual absence of any controls over vehicle emissions, the dropping of the requirement on the UK’s biggest companies to report annually on their plans to cut carbon emissions, the failure to give a lead to the wider population through the introduction of household carbon allowances, the depressingly weak policy on promoting renewables, and most perversely of all the continuing relentless drive to corner the remaining repositories of oil around the world even going so far as annexing 1/3rd million square miles of the sea-bed off Antarctica in hope of mineral and oil deposits.
The Climate Change Bill is fine, but it must be followed up by action in all other Government Departments that is consistent with its goals.
If we are going to lecture other countries at international gatherings about going low-carbon, why do we continue to allow one single power station – Drax in Yorkshire – to emit from a single chimney more CO2 than is emitted by 100 small countries around the world? Why are the Government poised to begin a new round of coal-fired generation, the most polluting form of energy? And if the proposed new Kingsnorth coal-fired plant in Kent was originally justified on the grounds that it offered the opportunity for a breakthrough demonstration carbon capture and storage (CCS) project, why is the Government now moving away from this conditional requirement?
The catalogue of mishandling of Northern Rock must be almost without precedent.
When collapse first became apparent last August, it could have been taken quickly and cleanly into temporary public ownership, thus saving the taxpayer £25bn in loans and £30bn in depositor guarantees. Six months was spent in delaying the inevitable, which damaged the reputation both of the Government and of the City. The reason it was not promptly taken into public ownership was not, as the Government has claimed, to look first at all the other alternatives (it was clear even at the outset that there really weren’t any), but to try to avoid any cost – even £55bn – any hint of a return to Old Labour nationalisation.
Since Gordon Brown was finally forced on 17 February to accept, amid gnashing of teeth, that temporary nationalisation was unavoidable, in just 3 days a whole new series of problems and uncertainties and mistakes have surfaced:
* There is an unanswered question about how the Bank will be regulated to prevent it distorting the market and having an unfair competitive advantage because of its State-backed guarantees. The Government claimed that EU State aid rules would achieve this, but did not indicate how, and declined to say whether the OFT would have a role.
* Though repeatedly pressed, Ministers have refused to set out the Government’s strategic objectives for the Bank. Is it to run down the bank and sacrifice half the existing 6,000 jobs, or is it to build it up and consolidate further its position in the market, with an eye to the most profitable future sale?
* There several different objectives which are clearly incompatible: making the Bank a profitable concern, reducing taxpayers’ exposure, protecting jobs in the North-East, satisfying EU rules, playing fair by other banks, to mention just some. Since it can’t achieve all, to which will the Government give priority?
* It is suggested the bank will be run at arm’s length from the Government. In that case, why did Gordon Brown appoint his former chief of staff, Tom Scholar, to the board?
* It is proposed that the bank should be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. Why? This does not encourage confidence.
* It now appears that Granite, the offshore component of Northern Rock, is being excluded from the nationalisation, on the grounds that whilst it is on the bank’s balance sheet, it is a separate trust. However, it now appears that if Northern Rock fails to supply new continuing mortgages into Granite to refresh its package as some of its mortgages are redeemed or repair, Granite will default and its entire securitised debt obligations will implode and have to be sold off on a fire sale basis. The seller’s share held by Northern Rock will also be part of the fire sale, and its value will fall well below its stated asset value in the books. Thus, by excluding Granite from this nationalisation measure, the Government is putting the taxpayer at risk of another huge bill.
* Almost worse, it is now becoming clear that the assets held by Northern Rock outside Granite, including those worthlessly pitched at 125% of value, are what the Government has acquired, whereas the high-valued assets are separately stored away in Granite. Once again, the Government has socialised the losses while allowing the smart money to privatise the gains.
David Miliband enthuses about spreading democracy, by military intervention if necessary, but we shouldn’t rewrite history by pretending that the motive for recent interventions had anything to do with democracy, as he seems to suggest.
The invasion of Iraq was claimed originally to be about WMD, then about Saddam’s tyranny, and later about democracy. It was in fact exclusively about oil and the US determination to establish a military base in the Middle East to control the oilfields. Democracy had nothing to do with it, except as an afterthought.
If we were really motivated by democracy, why have we taken no steps whatever to bring about democracy in Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan? Answer: because they all have enormous oilfields which trumps democracy every time.
Miliband also wants to encourage economic openness as a means of tackling corruption. That objective might carry more weight if Tony Blair hadn’t shut down the SFO inquiry a year ago into alleged corruption by certain Saudi princes over arms exports. Saudi oil seems not irrelevant here either. And if we want others to tackle corruption, we should do so ourselves. Since the anti-bribery law was passed in Britain in 2002, there has been not even a single prosecution here.
The foreign secretary’s view that fostering democracy in the Middle East “is the best long-term defence against global terrorism and conflict” seems odd. Of course fostering democracy helps, but a far more important way towards ending terrorism is stopping the occupation of other peoples’ lands because of their oil and instituting a much more equitable and balanced foreign policy towards the Arab States and Israel.
And his argument that interventions in other countries are OK so long as they are more subtle, better planned, and if possible with the agreement of multilateral institutions, is really alarming. We do not have the right to intervene in other countries except in extreme circumstances of genocide, and even then only with the agreement of the international community via the UN. Certainly not for the purposes of promoting democracy, let alone purloining their oil, however subtly it may be done.
A bizarre episode occurred in the House of Commons yesterday. We were debating the impact of the EU Lisbon Treaty on human rights. The Government line was, yes, we accepted that the Charter of Fundamental Rights was legally binding, but don’t worry, we then negotiated a protocol to make sure it won’t apply in the UK. The Tory line was that there was still no guarantee that bits of the Charter wouldn’t leak from this prohibitionist protocol because of judicial creep when cases came before the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
What a stitch-up! In my speech I made the obvious point crying out when all the other 26 EU Member States have accepted it without demur? Is it because the Charter would ban excessive working hours when British workers already work more hours a week than anyone else in Europe and the CBI would like to keep it that way? Is it because it would also permit secondary action in industrial disputes when at present British workers cannot take such action though employers can, and no doubt the CBI would like to keep it that way on that matter too? Yet the right to take secondary action has never been an issue in any other country in Europe, and it’s hardly the job of a Labour Government to maintain in the UK what Tony Blair once boasted to a business conference was “the most restrictive trade union legislation in the Western world”.
It really is ludicrous that the Government continues to resist what ever other country in the EU, without exception, has taken in its stride as the foundation of a civilised society. It’s not even as though the Government can succeed. The Swedish Prime Minister said in the Swedish Parliament on 26 June last year: “It should be stressed that the UK was given a clarification, not an opt-out”.
Even more significantly, when Blair was presenting the protocol to the UK Parliament the day before, he misread the text (well, I assume he misread it). He said: “Nothing in the Charter creates justiciable rights applicable to the UK”, whereas the text of the protocol actually says: “Nothing in Title IV of the Charter creates justiciable rights applicable to the UK”. The clear implication is that, although one section of the Charter cannot be used to create new rights, other sections almost certainly will be.
But even in respect of Title IV on social rights, the text of the protocol states explicitly that the Charter does not create justiciable rights applicable to the UK “except in so far as the UK has provided for such rights in its national law”. Presumably then it will be left for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to decide for itself whether the UK has attempted to provide for such rights in its national law and to decide whether the attempt to provide such rights is adequate in the light of the Charter.
Indeed it’s very difficult to see how this supposedly unique carve-out for the UK can actually work. Firms operating in more than one Member State will clearly be affected. Migrants coming from another Member State to the UK would presumably be covered. Anyone who travelled to another Member State from this country, for example for health services, would presumably be able to use the Charter. Moreover, there are 30 years of EU jurisprudence to say that there can be no two-tier system of European rights.
So this claimed uniqueness for the UK will almost certainly steadily unravel. It will be eroded by proactive ECJ judgements and also by the interactive knock-on effects between Title IV and other parts of the protocol. It surely is farcical that the Government are investing such enormous legal and logistical resources into resisting something which they are all too likely to lose in the end and which every other country in Europe has decided is practicable and desirable. We really need a Government in Britain which stands up for the British people and does not bow down to the CBI and the Eurosceptic press.