George Monbiot wrote an article on the Guardian web site about the so-called trade agreement that is being secretly forced on us by the Americans.
Tory "grandee" Kenneth Clarke wrote an attempted critique of it.
George Monbiot's replies were in the comments, in sections. I've gathered them together here:
Blimey, what a remarkably complacent response. There's a lot to get through here, so I'll answer your points in a number of comments.
1. You say that
"By the best estimates, it will deliver a £10 billion annual boost to the British economy alone, increase collective output by as much as £180bn, create thousands of jobs and deliver lower prices and more choice to consumers."
These "best estimates" are looking decidedly shaky. They have been ripped apart by Gabriel Siles-Brügge and Ferdi De Ville at the LSE, who expose the impossible assumptions on which they are based.
You then claim that TTIP cannot affect the "standards of protection for consumers, the environment, workers or anyone else. Regulations are made by governments and parliaments."
Using the example that every defender of TTIP uses, as it sounds more benign than any other, you say "American cars are no less safe than those in Europe, yet having two separate sets of regulation loads extra costs on to exporters and consumers."
In other words, one of two things has to happen. Either both trade blocs have to adopt the rules which currently prevail in one of them, or they have to find a compromise between the two. In other words, regulations will be changed by the TTIP negotiators. And as governments on both sides of the Atlantic are clamouring for standards to be cut, not raised, any conflicts between the standards in the US and the EU are likely to be resolved by cutting whichever is highest.
2. Mr Clarke, in case you hadn't guessed already, has one hell of a brass neck. Last time he responded to an article I wrote about this trade treaty, he stated that “Investor protection is a standard part of free-trade agreements – it was designed to support businesses investing in countries where the rule of law is unpredictable, to say the least.”
So what, I asked in my article, is investor-state dispute settlement, which was designed, as he says, to protect investments in failed states, doing in a treaty between the EU and the US? Are our domestic courts so riddled with corruption that they need to be bypassed by an offshore arbitration panel of corporate lawyers? Which of the parties to this treaty are countries "where the rule of law is unpredictable, to say the least”?
He ignores that question, and instead tries to assure us that panels of corporate lawyers, which elsewhere have proved notoriously friendly to corporations suing governments that seek to defend their citizens, can't do us any possible harm.
Why don't you answer the question first, Ken? Then we can address your claim about the investor-state dispute settlement threatening to do not "the slightest damage to consumer protection, our sovereignty or our NHS". We could draw upon grim examples of the kind I've listed in previous columns, in which the governments of Germany, Australia, Canada, El Salvador, Argentina, Ecuador and others have been sued under ISDS for the removal or prevention of laws protecting their people and the natural world.
3. But where your response becomes most revealing is in its blithe dismissal of the basic safeguards I suggest as a minimum defence of democracy. You maintain that "Nothing could be more foolish than releasing a negotiation position to every lobbyist before sitting down to negotiate with the other side."
What I'm talking about are positions that the EU and US have already tabled: in other words that the other side already has sight of. Why should these be kept secret? How can we be asked to trust the negotiators if we have no idea of what they are proposing?
What makes this worse is that these positions are likely, as early leaks suggest, to have been produced with the help of corporate lobbyists: as the US Chamber of Commerce and BusinessEurope boast, they are "essentially co-writ[ing]" them. They get advanced sight of these positions while the rest of us are left in the dark. How democratic is that?
Democracy rests upon transparency. Here you are unashamedly promoting opacity, and to sustain this position you need to produce a very good reason. But you produce no explanation for your contention that "Nothing could be more foolish ... ". What actual harm would be done by allowing the voters of this and other countries to see what is being negotiated in our name? Why shouldn't we have a say in it and be able to argue about it, rather than wait until it's too late to see what you have been doing?[Emphasis by Walrus.]
4. In response to my second proposal, that every chapter of the agreement should be subject to a separate vote in the European parliament, you say, "This would wreck the whole process."
Quite right too: we can't have those nosey elected representatives interfering in this process, can we? Far better to do it all in camera, out of sight of either the public or their members of parliament, and then dump it on the EP as a done deal: take it or leave it. Previous trade deals have been riddled with clauses inserted by corporate lobbyists, which are good for them and bad for the rest of us. Why shouldn't they be properly scrutinised and subject to a meaningful vote, as opposed to "yes to all of it" or "no to all of it"?
What's the big rush? Isn't it better to have a democratic process which takes a long time than an undemocratic one done in a hurry?
5. In response to my third test – a sunset clause – you tell us that "the full benefits of the deal may take a decade to become clear". That's a rather different impression to the one we've previously been given: that we'll quickly feel the benefits of this deal (if there are any benefits at all – please see point 1.)
By the way, if you are, as you claim, in this for the long term, it gives extra weight to my question: why the rush?
But OK, if you really believe that TTIP will take so long to produce results, I'm happy to negotiate. Let's say a sunset clause after 10 years. Do you object to that? If so why?
Let's consider the alternative: a treaty that lasts indefinitely, that contains no easy means of revocation by the nations that have signed it, even if it turns out to be a disaster. How democratic that does sound? Why should the unelected negotiators be granted power not only over this generation but over all those that follow?
6. You say: "I am not a creature of giant business". Just the former deputy chairman of British American Tobacco.
"I fear it is Monbiot who inadvertently supports the reactionary, protectionist positions of vested interests." Look, I'm the one who's trading here. I've offered three conditions which could allow me to accept TTIP. You have dismissed them all out of hand, slamming down these attempts to make it more democratic and transparent.
How does that look, do you reckon? Who looks as if they are supporting the reactionary, protectionist positions of vested interests?
Without the proposals I suggest, TTIP looks like little more than a charter for corporate power. Why should anyone accept that? And should we not be able to suggest improvements to the proposed deal without being told that we are reactionaries and protectionists?