In June 2016 a perfect storm of ‘interests’ managed to convince the British people to vote to Leave the EU. Among those ‘interests’ was “big sugar”.
First published in October 2018. | Updated in September 2019.
Little known fact: The European Union is the largest beet producer in the world churning out 17 million metric tons per year. The Common Agricultural Policy has long been protectionist towards EU produced beet – even as it (often very reluctantly) reformed other areas. Cane sugar importers pay a tariff of €339 per ton and naturally they do not like it. Would you?
There are only two big players in the UK sugar industry.
British Sugar uses beet in its production process and EU (mostly British) suppliers and thus manufactures its commodity tariff free.
Tate and Lyle Sugars is a cane importer and is thus obliged to pay tariffs on imports. Unsurprisingly, the company has been opposed to British membership of the Union from the very start.
During decades of hostility to the EU/EEC, Tate and Lyle managed to make friends in some very high places and one in particular. Prior to becoming an MP Brexit Secretary David Davis worked for the company for 17 years and was actively engaged in lobbying against the then EEC tariff.
During the 2016 referendum Tate and Lyle Sugars was one of the few big companies to support Leave and this year sponsored the Brexit heavy Conservative Party Conference, a move branded ‘disgraceful’ by British farmers.
Gove wearing a Tate and Lyle sponsored security badge at Tory Party Conference. (Getty Images)
While heralding the “golden opportunity” that Brexit will bring Tate and Lyle, oddly, neglects to mention either that they have been owned by US sugar giant American Sugar Refining since 2012, or that the ‘EU beet sugar’ they are so upset about is produced... in Norfolk.
Tate and Lyle’s cane sugar isn’t.
So where does it come from?
Sugar cane plays a vital role in the economies of countries like Mexico and Brazil, and an even bigger part in that of poorer and smaller Latin American nations like... Belize. Sugar cane remains the principle export of that relatively small Commonwealth country, accounting for almost a quarter of all exports while 15% of the population in this relatively poor country rely directly on it for a living.
The Brexit links to Belize have been well documented before but here’s a quick reminder. Brexiter Lord “Panama Papers” Ashcroft is a Belizean citizen and has dedicated much of his life (and assets?) to the country, serving as their Ambassador to the UN between 1998 and 2000. He admits that his businesses have been exempt from certain taxes there. Ashcroft allegedly gave the People’s United Party $1m when in opposition – it in turn introduced laws which are claimed to have been financially advantageous to Ashcroft.
Arron Banks, former UKIP donor and Leave EU Official boss-man also has very close personal and financial links to the country and was once described as the nation’s “special envoy to Wales”. Banks has managed to draw something of a veil over his associations with the Central American state but at least some of his wealth is said to be held in off-shore Belize.
Incidentally, Arron’s father David was awarded an OBE for services to overseas sugar in 2002.
Then there’s Andy Wigmore.
Arron Banks’ side-kick, Leave EU colleague and employee Andy Wigmore is not merely a Belizean citizen and sporting hero – he was until January of this year the Trade & Investment Minister at the Belize High Commission in London. This diplomatic post existed, in the words of his LinkedIn profile to ‘promote trade and investment into Belize’.
Now – let’s stop for a moment here and actually take that in.
Andy Wigmore – Comms and Number 2 at Leave EU Official – a vastly important player in the Brexit referendum was, at the time of the EU Referendum campaign, a foreign diplomat, employed by that foreign power, with the explicit role of promoting trade and investment into that nation.
Taking back control, yes? But for whom?
Following his and fellow Brexit “bad boys” meeting with Donald Trump – Wigmore was obliged to resign as a diplomat, ironically on the insistence of Boris Johnson. It seemed that by meeting Trump, Wigmore was breaching his “duty not to interfere in the internal affairs [of another country]” as an accredited diplomat – something he had already done in the UK – but oddly Boris let that one go.
Belize may have lost a trade envoy – but what have they gained in the process? The country and its politicians are much obsessed with the price of sugar on account of it being not merely the key economic issue but by dint of that – a political one as well. In Belize – sugar is power.
Belize Sugar Industries has faced many difficulties importing into the UK and the EU and as a cane producer it clearly hopes that the UK market will now be opened up wide to it after the country withdraws. That will benefit Belizean farmers and producers, Belize itself, politicians in parties like Lord Ashcroft’s friends at the PUP and their backers of course, but it will be a disaster for beet producers in Norfolk.
There will be other winners in tariff free cane trade into the UK – not least the majority shareholders in Belize Sugar Industries.
And – who might those guys be?
Well – since 2012 – that prize has belonged to an American parent company called ASR or American Sugar Refining – and if you think the name sounds familiar from earlier on in this piece, then let me save you the trouble of scrolling back – it’s the same parent company as... Tate and Lyle.
Now, I don’t want to go all Canary/Infowars on you, it might of course be a coincidence that a foreign trade envoy, working for a country whose main export is sugar moonlighted as the comms guy for a campaign whose few beneficiaries included sugar producing Belize and big sugar.
You may be absolutely fine with your Brexit Secretary having worked for nearly two decades for the one big business that backs the UK leaving the EU – and why should that big sugar producer not sponsor the Tory Party Conference?
In my opinion, there are serious questions here – questions of loyalty and integrity that go right to the top of our government and all of us – not least the beet farmers of Norfolk – are deserving of some answers.🔷
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[This piece was originally published on Pin Prick and re-published in PMP Magazine on 6 October 2018, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]
(Cover: Dreamstime/Allan Watson - Belize.)