Anneliese Dodds MEP

The South East's Voice in Europe

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Small Businesses contribute enormously to our local economy, making our high streets more diverse and providing greater choice.  In fact, over 99% of all businesses in the UK are classed as small or medium-sized enterprises, and there are almost a million such businesses in the South East alone.  They are the lifeblood of our economy.

This is why it is important for politicians to have our fingers on their pulse when it comes to small business, to be able to support them in the best way possible.

Yesterday, the Federation of Small Business (FSB) reported the good news that small businesses' confidence is up – back to similar levels seen at the start of 2016, according to their Small Business Index.  A net balance of 2.9% of small businesses report to have hired more people between October and December 2016.

Export-oriented businesses in particular are confident about the next three months, where they expect exports to grow. One of the main reasons for this is the plummeting of the pound in the recent months. However, currency depreciation is a double-edged sword.  It's good news if you export to other countries, where they will be inclined to buy more of your products.  But if you import from elsewhere in the world, the price of your raw materials just got more expensive.  Nearly one third of all small businesses report that the exchange rate is a major cause for the cost of doing business going up. This is worrisome on several levels: it's worse for businesses, because their profitability will go down as a result; but also for consumers because it will lead to a rise in prices - making ordinary people worse off when they buy their groceries or clothes.

Investment intentions also remain subdued compared to 2015. Most commentators suggest this could be due to uncertainty regarding the Brexit deal, as well as other issues such as the affordability and availability of credit.

The government needs to take these issues seriously, and look behind the good news in the headlines of the FSB's report.  They should take note of the warning signs within the report, and act now to protect businesses and consumers alike.  Instead, Theresa May has left a complete policy void regarding the kind of relationship with the EU she wants to achieve. It is now over 6 months after the referendum and the Tory government is still not clear if they are going to seek membership of the single market.  If we see such damaging uncertainty continue, the next issue of the FSB's report may contain much less good news, and a lot more gloom.

Small Business confidence has rebounded - but we need to look behind the headlines

Small Businesses contribute enormously to our local economy, making our high streets more diverse and providing greater choice.  In fact, over 99% of all businesses in the UK are classed as...

Ivan Rogers, who has resigned as the UK’s permanent representative to the EU was known to his peers as a public servant who genuinely understood the value of the neutral pursuit of the national interest. Clearly highly intelligent, he has been aware of – as he often made explicit – the fact that there are competing visions for the UK’s future. But, as with most public servants at his level of seniority and expertise, he proved able to empathise with these different visions while respecting the democratic mandate of the government he served.

It is therefore troubling that he has felt the need to resign just two months before the time when Theresa May, the British prime minister, has pledged to trigger Article 50 and begin the formal process of negotiating the UK’s departure from the UK. It appears Rogers decided to leave following criticism of his claim that it may take up to ten years for the UK to settle a trade deal with the rest of the EU. Rogers was, of course, only stating the reality that many (also highly derided) legal and economic experts have described.

Yet for Arron Banks, one of those who bankrolled the leave campaign, Rogers was insufficiently “optimistic” about Brexit. Indeed, for UKIP MEP Nigel Farage, “pessimistic” Rogers is not the only one who should depart. The entire Foreign Office should be “cleared out” following Rogers’ resignation, in his view.

This form of commentary is especially worrying for its wider consequences. It is not unusual for political figures to criticise civil servants. However, until now, this has occurred relatively infrequently in Britain. Politicians are generally viewed as responsible for strategic failings, but not civil servants who are unable to state their own case.

From any reasonable vantage point, Rogers was working hard to represent the British government. That has been an incredibly challenging task since May appointed ministers with radically different views on how to deliver Brexit. Organisational turbulence has compounded problems, with the unnecessary creation of a new department under a minister with a reputation for ignoring advice rather than following it.

Rogers’ task would have been difficult even if the UK had a coherent government position on Brexit. Unpicking the web of relationships that form the most complex and interdependent trade area ever created was always going to be tricky. Even something as simple as whether a new relationship can be created with the EU in the two years following the triggering of Article 50 is legally ambiguous.

There is a mind-boggling range of Brexit-related issues requiring resolution, which are all in theory somehow to be coordinated by the Department for Exiting the EU. For example, which EU agencies should the UK continue to be engaged with, and how? How will pan-European mechanisms such as the European arrest warrant work – or otherwise – in the UK in the future? If new arrangements are sought, will these be negotiated individually or collectively, and with the EU as a whole, or bilaterally? If the latter, how should they be sequenced?

All these issues run in parallel with the political challenges of ensuring that the UK obtains as good a deal as possible. And all the discussion must go on in a febrile atmosphere where decision making is increasingly both presented and operated as a zero-sum game. Compromise is becoming harder at all levels – national (given the upcoming German and French elections) and European (with the European Parliament’s vote on the UK’s exit deal set to take place right in the middle of the 2019 European election campaign). There are even regional pressures, given increasingly active local governments – as was seen when Belgian Wallonia interrupted a recent EU trade deal with Canada.

Unsung heroes

At a time like this, with so much uncertainty over how formal processes of government will play out, high-quality civil servants such as Rogers are more important than ever. They ensure that the ship of government continues to sail, even through choppy waters. It is regrettable that politicians have meddled with, criticised and briefed against those very civil servants who are currently gritting their teeth and getting on with delivering the Brexit decision.

British people from the baby boom generation and younger have had a continuous experience of relatively high-quality public administration. Whatever problems have arisen, “they” – the British bureaucrats – have generally “sorted it out”. Very few British people have lived through the chaos and fear that occurs from a genuine vacuum in public administration – as occurred in many post-communist countries – or which arises when the neutrality of public servants is consistently called into question, as happens in many divided societies.

The UK should be grateful for its public servants but it seems their value is only recognised in their absence. That goes for the unfortunate Ivan Rogers as much as for anyone.

This article originally featured in 'The Conversation' on 03/01/2017

Ivan Rogers resignation: in febrile Brexit Britain, it seems even public servants are fair game

Ivan Rogers, who has resigned as the UK’s permanent representative to the EU was known to his peers as a public servant who genuinely understood the value of the neutral...

Here is the text of a letter that I sent to local papers to mark Human Rights Day, and to call for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

 

Dear Editor,

 

Human Rights Day on the 10th December calls on everyone to do their bit to stand up for people whose rights are violated.  One case close to my heart is that of the British NGO worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, whose family are my constituents in the South-East.

Nine months ago, Nazanin, together with her 22-month-old daughter Gabriella, was about to board a flight back to her home in the UK from Iran, where she had visited her parents.  She was arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and was put in solitary confinement for 45 days. This had very bad effects on her health; she lost so much weight and strength that she was not able to hold her baby daughter during a visit after weeks of separation.

In September, after an unfair trial in front of a secret court and barely any access to lawyers, she was sentenced to 5 years in prison. The charges against her are still unknown. The European Parliament, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and Amnesty International are all calling for Nazanin to be released immediately.

Everyone can do something to help. You can sign her husband’s petition “Free Nazanin Ratcliffe” online or you can take part in Amnesty International’s “write for rights” campaign and send a letter to Nazanin in prison to show her that she is not forgotten.  If we stand together for human rights today and beyond, I believe we can make a difference for Nazanin and all those who face violations of their basic human rights.

Sincerely,

 

Anneliese Dodds, Labour Member of the European Parliament for South East England

On Human Rights Day, we should act for Nazanin Ratcliffe’s human rights

It often seems to be the case that, while bad news makes the headlines without fail, good news regularly goes unreported.  This week’s meeting of European finance ministers is a good case in point.  You have to look pretty hard to find much coverage of it, but quietly the EU took yet another positive step in the fight for tax justice.

 

Up until now, you could only access detailed information about the “beneficial ownership” of a company or trust if you were an authority investigating money laundering or terrorist financing.  Tax authorities, who need this information just as much as their counterparts looking into financial crime, were cut out of the loop.  That will now change, and soon tax authorities will also be able to see exactly who owns a company and where they are based - and another loophole beloved of tax evaders will have been closed.

 

This is important work, and praise should rightly be due to the campaigners who have fought for it, the European civil servants who drafted the legislation and MEPs and national governments who worked for it to become law. 

 

But, as so often in the fight for tax justice, it’s a small step towards tackling a giant problem.  We are still a long way from having properly cracked down on the twin problems of tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.  Frankly, we have a duty to our citizens to move a lot faster and with a lot more ambition.

 

So, building on this week’s decision, we now need to see that beneficial ownership information made completely public, because it will only be through proper transparency that we will be able to hold the ultimate owners of companies and trusts to account.  A proposal to do just that is passing through the European Parliament at the moment, and I am committed to doing all I can to make sure it will go ahead.

 

And more than that, if we want to truly stamp out these practices once and for all, then we need to make sure that a consistent set of tax rules are applied right across the EU.  That doesn’t mean setting a single tax rate for the whole of Europe, but it does mean creating a level playing field for companies so that they can’t play off one country’s tax system against another’s.  At their meeting, EU finance ministers made positive noises about this - but we are going to need actions as well as words.  A proposal for a single set of tax rules was first made back in 2011, and discussions have been stuck since then because of national governments being unable to set aside petty differences and instead come together for the common good.

 

If that is going to change - and it is clear, in the wake of scandals like Lux Leaks and the Panama Papers, that something is going to have to - then it will require a real effort of political will and serious levels of ambition which have been lacking up to now.

 

That includes the UK.  Whatever the final form of Brexit - hard, soft, red, white or blue - the UK should and must commit to upholding the highest possible standards when it comes to fighting tax dodging, and that means engaging constructively in European debates on tax for as long as we remain a member of the EU.  It also means committing to upholding those high standards as part of any future UK-EU relationship.

 

What the Tory government must not do, as it has too many times in the past, is seek to water down European tax legislation behind closed doors.  Nor must it seek to fire the starting gun on a race to the bottom by trying to position the UK as a tax haven sitting off the shore of the EU.  No one wins in that scenario.

The EU is inching forwards in the fight against tax justice - it’s time to pick up the pace

Anneliese will be attending an event to hear from constituents what they would like from the Brexit negotiations.

 

‘Meet Your MEP- What Kind of Brexit do you want?’ will be held on the 9th of December, in Maison Francaise d’Oxford, 2-10 Norham Road, Oxford, between 11:30am-1pm.

 

Attendees will be able to ask Anneliese questions, discuss the implications of Brexit and what they think the future EU-UK relationship should look like. A light lunch will also be provided.

 

Anneliese said: ‘Leaving the European Union is the biggest constitutional decision we are likely to make for a generation, and there should, quite rightly, be discussion and debate between constituents and their political representatives about their concerns. I am hugely looking forward

to hearing from some of my constituents about what kind of Brexit they would like to see, in order for me to make sure we get the best deal for Britain.’

 

If you are interested in attending this event, please register through this link:

http://www.europarl.org.uk/en/uk-events/forthcomingevents/mymeps2016/09122016-mymeps-oxford/register-mymepsoxford.html

Anneliese Dodds MEP invites constituents to have their say on Brexit


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