It has just been revealed that the UK was forced to pay €8 million to Eurotunnel for costs incurred preventing migrants entering the UK between 1999 and 2002.
The figure – revealed in an FOI response to campaign group War on Want – might not seem that much in the grand scheme of government spending, but it is important for several reasons.
Firstly the Eurotunnel case was an example of the controversial Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS) – secret tribunals where private companies can sue national governments for loss of profits. Other infamous examples of ISDS include Philip Morris, the tobacco giant, suing the Australian government for introducing plain cigarette packaging and Swedish energy company Vatenfall taking the German government to court for phasing out nuclear power.
Currently the UK hasn’t suffered too harshly at the hands of ISDS but that could all soon change with the advent of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership or TTIP, the bi-lateral trade agreement currently being negotiated between the EU and US. ISDS will be an integral part of TTIP and could see the UK government involved in many more cases such as the Eurotunnel one, where it could be forced to pay out millions of pounds of taxpayer money to private corporations.
The reason the UK hasn’t fallen foul of too many cases like the Eurotunnel one so far is that in most of our bi-lateral trade agreements we are the capital-exporting country. However that won’t be the case if TTIP comes into effect because of the large proportion of US capital stock in the UK.
A study by the London School of Economics into the potential effects of TTIP showed that we could expect to face as many ISDS cases as Canada under their similar NAFTA agreement with the US. Canada, by the way, is currently the most sued developed country in the world under ISDS, with cases such as oil company Lone Pine Resources suing the government for issuing a moratorium on fracking.
Canada has eight per cent of US foreign direct investment stock compared to the UK’s 13 per cent according to the LSE study, so it is easy to see how we could face an equal if not greater number of ISDS cases against us.
Apart from the dangers of ISDS, the Eurotunnel case also highlights just how desperate the UK government is to hide any details surrounding ISDS or TTIP. They have continuously refused to reveal how much money they were forced to pay Eurotunnel since the result of the case was first revealed. It is only because of the FOI request from War on Want that the €8 million figure was obtained (in a document that was otherwise heavily censored, I might add).
To illustrate the government’s secrecy on this issue, back in 2014 Green MP Caroline Lucas asked in parliament what legal costs had been incurred in the Eurotunnel case. She was told that the government doesn’t hold records going back that far.
Since the Eurotunnel case was in 2009, that is pretty poor record storage in anyone’s books. My inbox goes back further than that. I know the government is making cuts but are they now storing data on Z X Spectrums? (To answer Lucas’s question, the legal costs were around £500,000, by the way, on top of the €8 million paid in compensation – a figure also revealed in the FOI response which by some miracle, it turned out the Department for Transport had now remembered).
This obfuscation comes on top of the government’s recent refusal to share what it claims is ‘proof’ that the NHS won’t be subject to privatisation under TTIP. Or indeed to allow its citizens to have any say in whether we get TTIP or not. 500,000 UK citizens have already signed a petition, endorsed by over three million EU citizens, to stop TTIP. Yet the UK and EU governments continue to ignore the voices of their own people who otherwise have no say in the process whereby TTIP can – and probably will – be voted through.
Hopefully the threat of throwing even more millions of public money to private companies in a time of austerity will help the government see the error of its ways and vote against TTIP.
Somehow, though, I doubt it – throwing public money at private companies is what this government seems to like doing most.
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