Yesterday’s Parliamentary debate into RBS’ long-running scheme to bankrupt hundreds of business owners via its Global Restructuring Group was postponed after an “emergency debate” was called on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Sure, it’s selling arms to Saudi Arabia which is using those arms to murder, oppress and starve the Yemeni people, but there’s one surefire way to get the British Government to take foreign diplomacy seriously: threaten them with a banking inquiry. 

Illustration by Rachael Bolton

The House of Commons yesterday delayed a debate on the Royal Bank of Scotland’s (RBS) treatment of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) when an emergency meeting on Yemen was called.

Number 10 Downing Street has never been more relieved for a diplomatic crisis – especially one that it is central to.

Over the last 18 months, reporting by journalist Ian Fraser and others have revealed that RBS has been using duplicity and deception to force hundreds of business owners into bankruptcy via its Global Restructuring Group (GRG) for the sole purpose of shoring up its balance sheet.

Yesterday’s debate was likely to reveal the government’s complicity in the RBS’ long-running bankruptcy scheme. A leaked spreadsheet revealed GRG’s forced-bankruptcy strategy is earning the Group £89,000 per minute in balance sheet improvements. RBS is a majority tax-payer owned bank that was already been bailed out in 2013 to the tune of £45.5 billion.

To say that there is a public interest in this long-overdue inquiry would be an understatement.

Cash cows

Renegade Inc. has spoken to more than 25 business owners who have lost everything – including their homes – after RBS banking account managers sold their clients on loan restructuring agreements on the grounds they’d get a better deal. In at least four situations, the surprise bankruptcies and the bullying and intimidation that accompanied these actions, resulted in suicides.

After decades of irresponsible, unethical, and in some cases – illegal – derivatives trading on Wall Street, RBS had to find a way to make money to cover its losses. A decision was taken to use compromised SME customers as a cash cow. By pushing these businesses to the wall, the Global Restructuring Group became one of RBS’ biggest profit centres.

Serendipity or strategy?

Curiously, minutes before the Commons debate-that-wasn’t was due to start, RBS announced it had closed its so-called “bad bank”, which was created to handle the bank’s toxic assets leftover from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.

Neil Mitchell, former CEO of Torex Retail turn RBS campaigner, described the delay as a “US style Phyllybuster”.

“This was a cynical move by Number 10 and the Treasury to shorten or delay the BackBench Business Committee Debate on RBS’ criminal atrocities committed against British Businesses from 1992-2017,” he tweeted.

RBS’ Head of Public Affairs, Chris Maguire, was seen “stalking the corridors” of the House of Commons. Some are speculating he was involved in securing the delay. “If he was, his strategy was showing,” said one victim. What is certain: the delay is unlikely to have tested the resolve of those who have been disadvantaged by RBS’ fraud scheme. Many travelled to listen to and participate in the debate and will now have to make an additional trip to Parliament in January. A date has yet to be announced.

A source familiar with the inquiry told Renegade Inc. that the government was “trying to kick RBS into the long-grass by talking Yemen out until the end of the day.

“Or, ‘how to get Parliament to take foreign diplomacy seriously: threaten it with a banking inquiry.'”

Pothole Action Fund

Other issues which took precedence over RBS’ alleged bank fraud: Time was set aside to discuss whether or not US President, Donald Trump should be required to delete his Twitter account. And a further two-hours was spent debating Britain’s public transport and the Federal Government’s “Pothole Action Fund“.

Meanwhile, the US and UK are complicit in the worst humanitarian crisis in living history and have been instrumental in Saudi Arabia’s illegal war against Yemen’s Houthi rebels. More than 10,000 Yemenis have been killed. More than 900,000 people have been infected by the cholera epidemic. Millions more have been displaced, according to the UN. Having imposed a near total blockade on the country which depends on imports for survival, Yemen is in the grip of starvation, with no water, food or medical aid allowed to pass through its borders.

Though Saudi Arabia yesterday announced it would lift the blockade on Yemen, the country is still in crisis. Despite Theresa May’s visit to Saudi Arabia where it is claimed Yemen was discussed, it appears the British government has no intention to stop arming Saudi Arabia. Yesterday’s debate made clear that the Saudis have used British weapons on the Yemeni people. As of this year, British arms sales to Saudi Arabia have topped £1.1 billion .

Theresa May threatened to end her government’s arms sales to the region if Saudi Arabia wouldn’t end its blockade. Just kidding. She really didn’t.

Selling and dodging bullets…

The government refused to be drawn on whether any export licenses were granted for the sale of arms to the Saudi-led coalition during its three-week illegal blockade.

Conservative MP, the RT Hon Andrew Mitchell said during the exchange that he “steered away” from a debate on a British arms embargo “because I think it would have taken our eye off the critical ball,” he said.

So. A three-hour debate on Yemen with lots of hand-wringing, and gnashing of teeth. But in the end, like the RBS / GRG war, the result was zero promises, no new information, and almost zero action.

But at least it dodged a banking bullet. For now.

Claire Connelly

Claire Connelly

Claire Connelly is the editor-in-chief of Renegade Inc. An award-winning freelance journalist and speaker, she is the founder of Hello Humans, an experiment in subscription journalism starting at just $1 a month.

Specialising in economics, technology and policy, Connelly is working on her first book and podcast series, How the World Really Works*. (*Title may be due to change). You can pre-order a copy here. #shamelessselfpromotion.

With more than a decade of experience under her belt, Claire has written for leading publications including The Australian Financial Review, The Saturday Paper, ABC, SBS, Crikey, New Matilda, VICE & others. She is the co-host of The Week In Start-Ups Australia, and features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio shows including Radio National's Download This Show, ABC's The Drum, Ten's The Project, and more.

How do you spend your days?

I am the editor-in-chief of Renegade and founder of Hello Humans, a subscription journalism experiment. I also freelance & consult for a number of publications of the editorial and commercial variety.I work from home. I am a bit of a work-hermit. I can mostly be found on the internet and at the dog park.

Why is this important to you?

Now more than ever, it is really important to make sense of the world around us. But in an age of information saturation it is becoming harder to distinguish the truth from bullshit. Part of the reason I am doing this is to help people differentiate between the truth and narratives being sold by people and organisations with vested interests.

I want to help people identify rhetorical red flags and immunise themselves against a sea of bullshit.

What drove you to focus on journalism?

I guess you could say my parents played a fairly big part in my becoming a journalist, much to their despair. Watching the news, reading the paper and listening to the radio was a compulsory activity in my household. My parents read me the paper before I could read.

Being engaged in the world around us was the way we repaid our debt to society.

They channelled the last of their politically active twenties and thirties into fostering our curiosity and distrust of authority. It wasn’t until I reached university that I fell in love with economics, politics and international relations.

Was there a particular moment you can remember that led you to this field?

The day Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated, (the 4th of November 1995). I was 10. It was a weekend and I was in my winter school uniform complete with pinafor and scratchy tights. I played clarinet in the school orchestra and we were due to play at the old folks home. And I was pissed. And I said so.

The phone rang, and with tears rolling down her face, my mum turned to me and said the concert had been cancelled. Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister had been killed.

I threw my stuff down and turned to get changed. But before I could my mum grabbed me firmly. I will never forget the look of disappointment on her face. She made some comment about how Rabin did not die for my convenience.
“You live in this house, you have clothes on your back and warm blankets and three square meals a day. You may not do anything with your education that we pay for, but you will be informed.”
She sat me down in front of the ABC and made me watch eight hours of assassination coverage. Little had I known the world was falling apart.

That day pretty much sealed my fate.

You can read more it here if you are interested.

What drives you professionally?

Justice. Egomania. Curiosity. And the fact there is no other profession more suited to my personality.

In your opinion what are the three biggest problems facing the developed and developing world?

Neoliberalism. Economic and social instability and insecurity. Banking fraud. Climate change. (Ok that’s four things. I never was very good at lists).

If you hadn’t become a journalist what would you have done?

My mum wishes I had studied law.

What led us to this moment in history?

We are living proof of a 30 year operation to permanently reduce the responsibility ofgovernment over the wellbeing of its constituents. You can read more about that here. (Link to neoliberalism piece).

What are the lessons we failed to learn during and since the 2008 crisis?

Austerity is a means of redistributing the profits in of productivity in which we all used to share to the world’s uber-wealthy.

The global financial crisis was one small step for man, one giant leap for the banking industry. It cemented financial crises as a permanent phenomenon and the formalisation of corporate revolution.

It signalled to the world that government exists only to support the private sector, triggering a wave of disillusionment which allowed neoliberalism to complete its task at hand: the complete and utter destruction of democracy, replacing it with a market society in which economics permeates every facet of modern life, from education to healthcare to law & order.

Even the military operates as a for-profit model, conveniently privatising any activity that sits outside the criminal justice system.

Some call the bail-outs of 2008 a failure of neo-liberalism. To the contrary, the private sector attained almost exactly what it set out to achieve: a system with no obligation to true economic recovery, that supports only profits and the corporations which generate them.

We keep voting for wealthy populist leaders thinking the knock-on-effects will put dollars in our pocket when the very opposite is true.

So long as voters continue to accept the mythic propaganda sown over the last 30 years that tax breaks & subsidies create jobs, deficits are bad, surpluses are good and that any instability is somehow the fault of the poor, our economic insecurity will only continue to increase.

Can you list some ‘baby steps’ out of the current economic mess?

A return to full employment.

A royal commission into the continuation of subprime mortgage fraud. (It didn’t go away after the GFC. In fact it was pretty much legalised).

Slash the cost of university degrees & create new pathways for the unemployed and underemployed to attain new skills and education.

Deficit spending to create infrastructure that will create the jobs of the future.

Support local agriculture.

Reduce private debt.

If you were a President / Prime Minister what would your first three pieces of policy be?

A job guarantee.
Re-introduce a price on carbon.
Legalise gay marriage.

Tell us something you have been wrong about?

I didn’t think that in 2017 that gay marriage and abortion would still be illegal in Australia.
Claire Connelly

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