Cambridge Analytica’s Impact on the EU Referendum

Labour Party

Following Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony in the European Parliament two weeks ago, a conference held last night with influential speakers, some of whom were directly involved in breaking the Cambridge Analytica news story, in which delegates were told about the lengths to which the now dissolved company went to in order to achieve the results it was being paid to get.

Among the speakers were Carole Cadwalladr, the Guardian journalist who was one of the first to break the story, Christopher Wiley, the former Cambridge Analytica employee and whistleblower, and Elizabeth Denham, the UK Information Commissioner.

Although we have heard his story before, listening to Wiley’s account was nevertheless chilling. Cambridge Analytica took personal data from Facebook users and exploited it to skew democratic elections and referendums. Wiley described this situation as a “New Online Cold War.”

Specifically, in relation to the EU referendum, Wiley told MEPs about a tangled web of influence across the Atlantic. Both Leave campaigns were connected to Cambridge Analytica and its subsidiaries. However, Wiley pointed to possible breaches in UK electoral law, as there were connections with other groups such as BeLeave, Veterans for Leave, and even the DUP – the very party which the UK Government has formed a coalition with.

Whatever the result of the various investigations taking place into the Leave campaigns, the big tech companies will have questions to answer. It was known well before the 2016 EU referendum and US Presidential Election that Facebook users’ data could be manipulated in this way.

Cadwalladr expressed her frustration as a journalist, with the denial and lack of complete answers from tech companies – a sentiment shared by many in Brussels after Zuckerberg’s evasive testimony in the European Parliament two weeks ago.

Equally, in her view the European Parliament has the opportunity to get answers from Nigel Farage and Gerard Batten, the current leader of UKIP, who also avoid questions from journalists investigating the case.

Only the EU has the economic and political clout to take on these internet giants. From competition rules to copyright, and now to defending our democracies, the EU is able to stand up to huge companies like Google and Facebook and make them play by the same rules as everyone else.

What exactly was the Brexit manifesto?

Labour Party

The European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP) has raised concerns over the future of Britain’s immediate involvement of the European Membership and our current membership following the referendum.

There are, the EPLP warns, “two unpalatable options”. These are currently being contemplated but both of options are problematic. Some believe we can exit the European Union but retain membership to the European Single Market. The issue with this is that in order to gain full access, Britain must accept the common rules, and this means it will no longer have a say over future changes. A further consideration is that one of the central points of many leave campaigners was the issue of free movement of labour.

The free movement of labour, is part of the strict criteria which members must sign up to if they are to enjoy membership to and trade in the single market. It is very likely therefore that the UK would need to accept free movement as part of the terms.

The other alternative advocated by some ‘Brexiteers’ was to leave the single market entirely. In this scenario the damage to the economy will be significant, not least because we would face tariffs on exports to the EU.

In addition, many current trade agreements we have in place globally will need to be replaced because these deals were agreed as part of our relationship with the EU. They were made centrally by the European Union. So the UK would need to rapidly re negotiate trade agreements to replace these.

Although the result of the referendum was to end our membership of the European Union, there is no explicit mandate for what happens next as my colleague Richard Corbett MEP has pointed out.

The problem with the Brexit campaign, as we now know, is that there was no clear plan offered for life post Brexit. Neither was there a clear manifesto and as a result the next steps are muddy and unclear. A full debate in the British Parliament is therefore essential.

Richard Corbett said yesterday: “The idea that the recent referendum has completely settled the issue is surely dead. Referendums are supposed to settle issues. But does the UK look settled and calm?”

The new Prime Minister has a huge task ahead of her (or him) and how s/he directs the narrative and the first stage of negotiations is crucial, but first Parliament must hold a full and in depth debate about the future of negotiations.

Lord Mandelson sets out his ‘Better In’ argument to the City:

Labour Party

Delivering a speech in the City of London yesterday, the former EU trade commissioner, Lord Mandelson, warned of the implications for Britain’s ability to trade in favourable terms with the EU in the event of a Brexit.

He explained how our ability to trade freely would be hindered not only in the European Union but also that it would have wider ramifications affecting our position in the global community and could impact our position as the fifth largest economy.

In his speech, Lord Mandelson pointed out that renegotiating the terms of trade would take a significant amount of time to arrange if we voted to leave. “What is at stake are the terms on which we would trade, especially for the financial services that are a vital part of UK trade. And just how long it would take to negotiate these terms,” he told the audience.

He also pointed out that Britain would have no say in the terms and conditions of trade agreements and would have to comply with European terms in order to get full un hindered access. “In Europe we will only get full, unhindered access if we re-accept all the regulatory rules and standards of the Single Market. Period. It’s a binary choice.”

He explained his experience in trade negotiations (he was the EU Commissioner between 2004-2008) meant he understood just how complicated trade policy is, far more so than the ‘Brexiters’ suggest.

Clearly, by exiting Europe Britain would not be in a strong bargaining position, “a politically-charged negotiation of a free trade agreement with the EU would, in reality, be much harder than this argument suggests,” he said.

Lord Mandelson also pointed out that as a result of the major disruption caused by leaving the single market “there would be a loss of the favourable access our exporters have in other parts of the world as a result of our self-exclusion from the EU’s common trade policy and its international trade deals would have more profound consequences than the Brexit argument admits.”

Recovering from these profound consequences would be difficult, Lord Mandelson warned. Developing a new set of British global deals “will be hard to obtain and won’t even come close to compensating for either of these two setbacks”, he said.

He reminded the audience that the European Union is Britain’s largest market, thousands of British SME businesses join cross-border supply chains and production networks. The effect harmonization and standardization has on businesses means impediments, such as tariffs, to doing business are removed.

You can read more on Lord Mandelson’s speech here:

What would happen to the two million plus ex-patriates in a Brexit?

Labour Party

One area which has not been considered fully in the event of a Brexit, is the major impact it would have on the estimated 2 million (plus) ex-patriate community who live across countries within the European Union.

Should the British electorate vote to leave the European Union in the 23 June referendum, then the current reciprocal arrangements between the UK and other member states which see ex-pats health care and pensions protected would likely stop. At the very best they would be re-negotiated out of all recognition and any EU member state could legitimately say: “We are no longer prepared to have this on-going reciprocal arrangement with you.”

While the ‘divorce’ will take some time to negotiate, the impact on the expatriate community could be immediate. And if Britain were to go ahead and deny EU citizens special arrangements then it is very likely this would be reciprocated by EU member states.

For example, ex-pats would probably lose their right to freedom of movement within the EU and could be limited to stays of just 90 days out of 180 unless they are granted a permanent residency card, and even then they would need to provide proof of sufficient income in order to be able to support themselves.

Of course it’s not just the ex-pat community who could face such restrictions. Anyone wishing to work in a member state may well be required to apply for a visa in order to work across mainland Europe.

Another area of obvious concern is the implications for health care provision. The ex-patriate community would also likely be affected by changes to rules applying to health care. The current arrangement, whereby using the European Health Insurance Card guarantees free treatment, would no longer be valid and healthcare provision which currently exists would likely be withdrawn meaning ex-pats would be forced to pay for treatment or buy private healthcare insurance.

There would also be implications for pension payments if Britain left the EU British pensioners would effectively be frozen out of any increases in the UK state pension in the same way that ex-pats who live in other parts of the world such as South Africa or Canada are forced to abide by.

Meanwhile the British Government would also have to embark on a series of country-by-country negotiations. Indeed the UK could end up with 27 different bi-lateral agreements; progressing this would be protracted, complicated and would inevitably lead to months of uncertainty.

Furthermore, not all ex-patriates are eligible to vote in the EU referendum. Despite the Government’s promise to abolish the 15 year rule, which bars long term ex-pats from being able to vote in UK parliamentary elections, the Votes for Life Bill has yet to be tabled in Parliament, which means those who have lived outside the UK for more than 15 years will not be able to participate.

Ex-patriates who are eligible to vote must register online urgently.

This is an area which is easy to forget about but those campaigning to remain in the European Union should pay attention because it will have huge consequences for the two million (plus) people currently residing abroad.

Sixteen and Seventeen Year Olds should vote in the EU Referendum

Labour Party

I was gratified to see that the Prime Minister has conceded that the House of Commons should vote on whether 16 and 17 year olds should be eligible to vote in the referendum on EU membership.

He is, of course, personally opposed to extending the franchise for the EU vote, notwithstanding the fact that this group voted in the referendum on whether Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom.

As we know, Cameron’s argument is that the vote on EU membership should be done on the same basis as that used for general elections. Although such an arrangement would clearly favour the Conservatives, it is difficult to understand his logic, particularly in the light of the extension of the franchise for Scotland. The EU referendum is not a political party contest as such. It is rather a vote by the British people about an issue of vital importance to them.

Research published today examining the potential voting patterns of 16-17 year olds in Scotland, revealed that two thirds would have voted in the general election had they had the opportunity to do so. Young people are engaged in politics. The fact that turn out in the 18 – 25 year old group is low in general elections says more about traditional politics in our country than young people’s attitudes towards their lives, how they are governed and what they care about.

Many 16 and 17-year-olds are entering the world of work whether it is part time or full time; they are expected to pay taxes, contribute to national insurance, they are allowed to start a family, fight for their country live independently and get a mortgage. In other words they are allowed to participate in almost all areas of civic social and economic life and are treated as, and have the same responsibilities as, adults yet they are not allowed to participate in political life beyond supporting a political party.

The referendum in Scotland generated immense enthusiasm, the like of which has not been seen for a long time in elected politics. If the EU vote generates anything like the liveliness seen in Scotland that, in itself, will be a victory.

Britain outside the EU would be much diminished. We rely on the European Parliament for not only our trade but also our place in the world.

Let’s be truly democratic and give 16 and 17 years olds a vote on their future.


Making the business case for Europe – the UK must side with pragmatism over prejudice

Labour Party

Last week’s comments by Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn expose the flaws of Euroscepticism. In terms of current government policy it is the tail that wags the dog.

Ghosn suggested Nissan’s Sunderland factory is European first and British second. He said his company would need to reconsider its “strategy and investments for the future” if Britain leaves the EU.

His words hit on an uneasy fault line within the coalition government – between economic rhetoric which promises jobs and industrial investment, and social policy which is nationalist and populist in tone. The former can only be achieved through global engagement; the latter relies on a sentimental vision of ‘Little England’. With Tory backbenchers, led by Adam Afriyie, now pushing for an early EU referendum – a demand which is, by Afriyie’s own admission, driven by the short-term political goal of warding off Ukip – the gap between the two is becoming ever wider.

Last week’s disagreement between the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Eurosceptic campaign group Business for Britain shows how the Europe issue comes down to a straight choice: pragmatism or prejudice.

The CBI, which represents 240,000 UK companies, describes the case for staying in Europe as “overwhelming”. It values the annual benefits of Britain’s EU membership at as much as £78 billion – £3,000 a year for every family. As CBI Director General John Cridland points out, EU membership provides a “springboard” for reaching 500 million Europeans and gives access to trade agreements worth £15 trillion. “We’d struggle to pull off deals of this scale on our own,” he says.

Cridland’s point is very clear: in the face of big global economic changes our best chance of remaining economically relevant is through working with our neighbours.

Business for Britain’s approach, by contrast, illustrates how difficult it is to make economic sense of an argument which is at its core myopic and knee-jerk. The group’s co-chair John Mills drew a blank when asked on the BBC’s Today Programme how redundancies at plants like Nissan tie in with the ‘job creation’ EU withdrawal would supposedly bring. Even Mills’ own organisation’s polling cannot disguise the fact that big businesses – those most likely to generate large-scale employment – say the benefits of being in Europe outweigh the costs. Everything about Business for Britain, from its emotive language to the sepia wistfulness of its website, emphasises nostalgia rather than logic.

The contrast between these two mindsets was summed up nicely by David Marquand last month, when he wrote that “Europhiles speak to the head, Europhobes speak to the heart”. For me these are two approaches which cannot be reconciled; yet by succumbing to backbenchers’ Euroscepticism David Cameron has tried to let them coexist. He has strapped himself to two horses which will never run in the same direction. This is not just the case in terms of business, but also on issues like security, where isolationism threatens the UK’s ability to tackle organised crime.

With senior business figures continuing to speak out in favour of Europe it is important that those on the progressive wing of politics are staunchly and unapologetically pro-European. As the business case for the EU builds the misty-eyed vision of times passed which sustains Euroscepticism (the “never never land” spoken of by John Major) will be exposed.

Regardless of when or if there is a referendum, this is an issue which cannot be thrown into the long grass. Those of us who want a more prosperous Britain must seize the impetus on Europe and ally ourselves with the forces of reason.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Parity in the content and quality of sex education across Europe continues to vary widely. And as Dave Keating reveals in the latest issue of European Voice, it doesn’t just vary from country to country but also can vary widely within them.

I was surprised to read that there remains such a great divide between those countries which do educate their young people and those who still don’t.

The report found, unsurprisingly, that Nordic and Benelux countries have the highest levels of education while eastern and southern countries (with the exception of Spain and Portugal where there has been vast improvement) hardly touch on the subject.

The responsible teaching of sex education is so important because, as the report finds, there is a direct correlation between the education and rates of HIV infection. You can read more on the report and the full article in the latest issue of European Voice here.

Meanwhile back in the UK it’s another week and yet more confusion of the coalition governments position on Europe.

In two separate interviews today, Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, contradicted themselves once again- it did at least provide an indication of how deep the fracture is running.

First the Work and Pensions Secretary said: ‘that a significant EU treaty change should trigger a referendum’. At the same time Nick Clegg said that a single change, even if significant, did not require voters to be consulted.

German chancellor Angela Merkel will meet French president Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on tomorrow (Monday) to ‘thrash out a plan to save the euro ahead of the EU summit on Thursday,’

As the fracture continues to gather pace so Duncan Smith continue to make ridiculous and sweeping statements which only serve to reveal a greater lack of understanding than we could ever have given him or his party credit for.

He even suggested that if the summit leads to a treaty renegotiation, the prime minister should use it to demand repatriation of powers to Britain from Brussels… and we know that’s almost impossible to achieve.

You can read the full story in the Guardian online here.


My thoughts on the EU referendum debate on Iain Dale’s LBC evening show

Labour Party

On Friday I took part in a discussion on the EU referendum on Iain Dale’s LBC evening show. My fellow guests were Mark Seddon, Kate Hoey and Petros Fassoulas. In light of yesterday’s debate  I thought you might like to have a listen: