The complexities of plastic bags

Do you dislike the UK’s “throwaway” culture? Do you share the Daily Mail‘s concern about the damage with plastic waste is doing to our coastlines and oceans? If so, you will probably be pleased to know that since the introduction of the 5p charge on plastic bags in supermarkets in 2016, single plastic bag use has dropped dramatically – by as much as 90% according to some sources.

Now the 5p charge is being extended. Small outlets (defined as those with less than 250 employees) will lose their exemption and will have to start charging for plastic bags too, most likely before the end of the year.

While most of us must surely be delighted if there are fewer discarded plastic bags cluttering up our roadsides, the issue isn’t quite that straightforward.

Firstly, it exposes the complexities of political life for politicians like Michael Gove, the current Secretary of State for the Environment. Gove has traditionally been labelled “Centre Right“, which has historically meant a supporter of small government.  You would think, therefore, that although he was apparently “haunted” by the amount of plastic which is polluting our oceans, he would look to find a solution which is more free market and less statist than the introduction of what is, in effect, another tax.

This, however, is far from the only complexity which has been raised in this war on plastic. When the initial legislation bringing in the 5p charge was introduced, nowhere did it mention that it has its origins in an EU directive. Not once does the 2015 Bill mention the EU or the Directive, according to the EU Observer. Perhaps, claims the author, Gove “may want to portray the success of the 5p charge as a domestic affair”.   For sure, given that the original legislation pre-dated the Brexit vote, the omission of any mention of the EU cannot have been as a result of wishing to downplay the EU’s role for fear of boosting its popularity and thus undermining the case for Brexit. More likely, as the writer suggests, in these days when politicians are eager to emphasise their “green credentials”, it is more a case that Michael Gove or perhaps even Theresa May are wanting people to make assumptions that the 5p tax is their idea, given that the war on plastic is largely seen as a good thing.

In a sense, the EU Observer is making something of a mountain out of a molehill. Although the writer is upset by the reluctance of UK parliament and politicians to acknowledge the EU’s role in the war on plastic, preferring to claim the credit themselves, as one astute observer has put it, without the UK’s influence, much of the EU’s environmental legislation would never have got off the ground in the first place:-  “all the current EU countryside environmental schemes have their origins in UK policy goals and schemes.”

And finally, to anyone who now feels uncomfortable now they realise that a development which they considered beneficial had its origins in Brussels, it is worth remembering that even the most odious of political régimes occasionally do good things. For instance, Germany is rightly proud of its Autobahn network and while the oldest section of it dates from the late 1920s, its most significant and dramatic period of expansion, from a mere 108km to 3,736km took place between 1935 and 1940 because of one man’s far-sighted recognition of the value of a nationwide high speed road network. His name was Adolf Hitler.

Photo by oparrish

A winnable referendum

I have received a number of e-mails from people who say that in their opinion, the “leave” side is not putting up a particularly good show and that far too many people are being frightened into voting for “remain”, even if they don’t really like the EU.

Obviously, the Campaign for an Independent Britain is only one part of the “leave” campaign so we can’t speak for every group fighting for withdrawal. What we can assure our supporters, however, is that we are working flat out  – supplying literally hundreds of thousands of leaflets, dealing with all manner of phone calls and e-mails, speaking at meetings, keeping this website up to date and so on. The list is endless.

Furtherore, we are convinced that this is a winnable referendum. Opinion polls have yet to indicate a significant move in our direction, but activists up and down the country do paint a more positive picture than the headline numbers suggest.

One interesting assessment comes from the EU observer on-line newspaper. In a piece called Stumbling towards Brexit,  Gareth Harding says that “the remain camp is in trouble, big trouble.”  His reasoning is that we are doing so well in a campaign which is loaded strongly against us. “Given the heavyweight opposition ranged against it, you would think the Leave campaign would be on the canvas facing the count. Instead, it appears to have weathered most of the punches landed on it and is still standing strong with the final bell still to be rung” he writes.

The main reason why he expects us to vote to leave is that our hearts will overrule our heads. “Rightly or wrongly they will cast their ballots based as much on laments for imperial greatness, anxieties about immigration, tabloid horror stories about barmy Brussels bureaucrats, stubbornness at the idea of being pushed around by a PM or a US president, and a deep-seated desire for Britain to keep control of its destiny as on any rational arguments about the economy or the country’s place in the world put forward by mainstream politicians.”

We may not agree with this assessment, but the article provides statistical evidence that voters are distinctly unimpressed with David Cameron’s claims that our leaving the EU could result in a war.  Apparently, 35% of voters think that EU membership makes it more likely we will go to war as opposed to a mere 19% who think it less likely.

It is encouraging that the deluge of dire economic consequences have not had as great an impact as the “remain” side had hoped. Part of it is that like the well-known story of the boy who cried “wolf”,  the sheer intensity of the barrage has led to considerable cynicism. There are good reasons to be sceptical, as Tim Martin of J D Wetherspoon points out. After all, many of the claims about economic meltdown do not come from neutral sourcies. The IMF, the OECD and George Osborne all want us to stay in. We have already shown on this blog that previous “divorces” with parallels to Brexit have not had a negative economic effect.

Furthermore, the idea that business is united in supporting “remain” is a myth. We have exposed this in our “5 Mistaken assumptions” leaflet and further evidence for this has come in the shape of a letter to the Daily Telegraph signed by more than 300 business leaders whose companies range from hospitality,  retailing and aviation to finance and insurance.

After all, we are only looking to re-join the rest of the world in managing our own affairs. The hypocrisy of President Obama and others in urging us to stay in the EU when their countries would neve contemplate joining such an organisation has also cut very little ice with the electorate. At least a few figures from the Commonwealth have  been more supportive, including Winston Peters, New Zealand’s former foreign minister and the former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who said  that if he was a UK voter, he would support Brexit.

Nonetheless, the economy remains our achilles heel. Sovereignty and immigration are issues which favour us but fears of job losses worry a sizeable number of voters and could decide the outcome of the referendum.  We have a new leaflet in the pipeline which will assure people that their jobs are safe – watch this space!

Access to the Single Market is a big worry for some companies. Of course, the desire of all supporters of withdrawal is that we can end up with a trade-only relationship with the EU, but this won’t happen at once. The move towards global bodies driving regional trade agreements is gathering pace. This, essentially, will eventually result in a redundancy notice as far as the EU’s role in our trade is concerned, but – to repeat – we are looking several years into the future.

As for the immediate future after Brexit, the worldwide reduction in tariffs does not mean their elimination, not to mention the non-tariff barriers we would face outside the Single Market. Relying on World Trade Organisation rules for our trade leaves some big holes in our arguments and big worries for many company directors.

It would be a tragedy if fear was the real victor in this referendum and the electorate voted to stay in project they really don’t like, with the basic issues unresolved. There are convincing arguments that will address the economic worries and if they can be heard, it will leave very little ammunition left in the Remain camp’s arsenal, so the goal to which many of us have aspired – in some cases for many years – could finally be within our grasp.

The CIA agents with a conscience

One of our supporters, Mr Peter Farrell, has recently sent us a link to a most interesting article, which first appeared in the EU Observer magazine in 2001. Although this is now 14 years ago, few people are aware, even now. of the degree to which the US intelligence agency played its part in clandestinely supporting the European Movement, which in its turn played a key part both in securing the UK’s accession to the EEC (As it was) in 1973 and ensuring we didn’t regain our independence in the 1975 referendum. The piece quotes extensively from CIB’s former vice-president Sir Richard (Dick) Body MP. At least a couple of CIA agents appeared to have been most uncomfortable about the CIA’s covert operation. Sadly, since the inception of the EEC, they have been very much the exception rather than the norm as far as the US government and its intelligence services are concerned.  Given President Obama’s recent utterances in support of the UK remaining in the EU, it is hard to have any degree of confidence that US intelligence agencies will keep their nose out of the forthcoming referendum.

Here is the article:-

It has long been rumoured that the CIA played an important role in the campaign to “keep Britain in Europe”, which the Yes side ran up to the 1975 referendum about Britisk EU membership. But now, irrefutable documents are available to the public, according to Sir Richard Body, who gives his version of the facts in his recent book, “England for the English”.
“After I became joint chairman of the Get Britain Out Council two Americans came to see me in 1975 with a large bundle of papers. They were, they claimed, CIA agents who deplored their country’s methods in interfering in the affairs of a good ally. What they had brought were copies of documents which showed that a dedicated federalist, Cord Meyer, jnr. was to become head of a CIA station in London for the duration of the Referendum “to do what it takes” to secure a “Yes” vote in favour of Britain remaining in the EEC. The papers showed that the CIA had already given the European Movement considerable sums of money, but now multinational corporations which had been assisted by the CIA were to be persuaded to fund the “Yes” campaign through indirect channels.


I hoped that at least one newspaper would agree to take up the story, but they were all strongly in favour of the EEC, and each one refused. Eventually, in the last few days of the campaign, Time Out agreed to publish the story. But it was then a mere fledgling with a small circulation, som only a few hundred Londoners would have read it.
Other people treated my account of the interview with disbelief, and I gave up speaking of the episode. However, the original documents are now filed in Georgetown University. Dr. Richard J. Aldrich, an academic of Nottingham University, has examined them and written a research paper about the CIA in Britain based upon the originals as well as a book”.
Documentation can be found in: OSS, CIA and European Unity in Diplomacy and Statecraft, vol. 8 no 1, March 1997 andRichard J. Adrich, The Hidden Hand; John Murray, 2001.

Photo by theglobalpanorama