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Published on April 21st, 2016 | by frances

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8 Weeks Later…..

By Adam Rourke, Prospect YPN

It has been 8 weeks since my trip to Brussels and the European Parliament. That’s 8 weeks of reflection on such an important issue. Whilst I immediately got back to day to day life when I returned, the referendum has been at the forefront of my mind ever since.

Being part of the Prospect Young Professionals Network (YPN), I have just returned from the TUC Young Workers Conference and Forum in London and I made some interesting observations. As well as canvassing members at the Young Workers Conference, I have asked my YPN branch members to get involved in the debate.

During the process I was happy to share my thoughts and feelings and help to relay as much of the information gathered from Brussels as possible. In the meantime I have been researching some of the issues myself and attempting to gain a greater and deeper understanding of the effects of a “Remain” or a “Leave” vote. However, I found my opinion shifted on some of these points as I started to look at the supporting evidence or basis to which these conclusions were drawn. I attempted to avoid the tabloids at all costs, as their reputation for presenting a fair argument is on par with my reputation as a professional tennis player (I am not very good at tennis).

Housing, social services and the NHS are some of the issues that were raised, along with immigration, which is highly visible here in the north-west. You only need to check the reviews of some of the “Britannia” hotels in the area to see the effect it is having on the local community. No doubt the national and local newspapers have added to the scaremongering here in the UK, and have taken every opportunity to report on crimes committed by migrants or EU nationals. However, numerous incidents of terror in Paris and Belgium and the harassment seen in Germany have undoubtedly had an effect on people.

However, migration does play a large part in British society. A large proportion of low paid jobs, such as cleaners, hotel staff and carers, are taken up by migrants, as the wages far exceed those they would earn back in their home countries. As recent research from University College London shows, European migrants are not a drain on Britain’s finances; what is more, they actually pay in more in taxes than they take out in state benefits. That contribution – valued at £2bn a year – is helping to fuel Britain’s economic growth.

Other issues that surfaced, during the Young Workers Conference at the TUC and from my branch, were the impacts of TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) on the NHS and other public services; the proposed entry of Turkey into the EU, given Turkey’s reputation on human rights and the issue of border controls under Schengen; the sovereignty of the UK and UK courts to deport criminal migrants; and the tariffs and/or quotas on farming and fishing imposed by the European Council.

There is no doubt that immigration issues would play a massive part in the campaign, rightly or wrongly some may argue; however, it cannot be argued that, collectively, there are bigger issues with a “Brexit” than immigration. The idea that Cameron secured a fair deal to address the issues of immigration, and the potential for Britain to contribute to yet another Eurozone bailout, appeared to curb some of the noise from those who were swaying towards a “Leave” vote. However, recent comments from European Parliament Vice-President Alexander Graf Lambsdorff appear to suggest that the deal is hollow, has no legal standing and will be fought in the European Parliament by MEPs.

He said: “At the moment, the whole thing is nothing more than a deal that has been hammered out down the local bazaar.

“The EU, however, is a community of law, in which there are regulated responsibilities.

“If the British are going to put all their eggs in one basket, in a promise made like this, which has not yet complied with our clean process of law, then, for me, this process of law is more important and preferable.”

These comments, along with the rest of the interview on the “EurActiv” website, appear to back up original comments from Michael Gove and Tory backbenchers that the deal David Cameron secured is not legally binding. This leads me to the conclusion that some “Remain” voters are being misled by the government on the ability to apply these measures, measures that were originally brought in to address some of the fundamental issues for voters.

On the other side of the fence, recent articles from the IMF, our own UK government and some think tanks are keen to highlight the potential economic implications of a “Brexit”, the potential loss of investment to the EU and the painstaking task of replacing the masses of EU legislation in our roster within the 24 month deadline. Moreover, public statements from the bosses of BAE Systems, Shell, BT and Diageo have highlighted the requirement to their business to be able to trade freely and have an “open door” with the EU.

At the TUC Young Workers Conference, Frances O’Grady was keen to acknowledge, in her opening speech, that the EU protects some of the basic workers’ rights we have: maternity pay; working time regulations; and an annual leave entitlement. Some provisions that are taken for granted, such as emergency healthcare on holiday, the ability to retire to the Costa Del Sol and free movement on the continent, could potentially be no longer available to us. The key theme was highlighting the large amounts of uncertainty that comes with a “Brexit” and is it uncertainty that we don’t need during a time of austerity and economic recovery.

However, I must highlight a point made on this blog by Andrew Macdonald: should leaving the EU have an impact on workers’ rights, it would be in the government’s best interests at least to reinstate those rights as a minimum. I cannot foresee a government rescinding holiday or maternity pay or reducing any of these benefits, as the revolt from the public and the damage done to their reputation and re-election campaign would be irreparable. We all still remember Margaret Thatcher the “Milk Snatcher”!

On the basis of all the information I have come across, there don’t seem to be clear-cut facts regarding all of these issues. There has been a lot of “opinion” and “studies” carried out, without any definitive conclusions on the effect a “Brexit” would have on the UK. This is evident in that some of our fellow trade unions – RMT, the Bakers Union and Aslef – have announced their decision to back a “Brexit”, whilst other trade unions and the TUC itself are confident a vote to stay in the EU is the best decision.

This leads me to a pretty simple conclusion about this referendum: that a majority of people I have come across aren’t undecided. They have made their minds up and their decision is based on what will affect them, not necessarily what is best for others or us collectively.

For me, the comments from the European Parliament Vice-President Alexander Graf Lambsdorff are worrying. We know David Cameron has publically fought to keep Britain from becoming ever closer to the EU, whilst remaining a member; however, it appears that decision isn’t entirely in our hands.

My question is this; Do we vote to stay in the EU and potentially be resigned to an ever closer, more integrated community or do we leave and try to go it alone?


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2 Responses to 8 Weeks Later…..

  1. Max says:

    The three major factors that need to be considered , on which all else pivots are , the lack of our parliamentary sovereignty , which impacts immeasurably on citizens ability to influence policy via the ballot box due to the almost total lack of democratic process in the EU . The second is the likely negative
    aspects of the TTIP negotiation and implementation which is all being negotiated in secret . Thirdly is the ongoing negative impact on the working man/woman of unlimited immigration , which is a simple economic result of over supply , as with any commodity , hence the stance of large corporations which are the consumers of workers labour

  2. frances says:

    From Calvin Allen, Prospect Research Officer:

    Just picking up here on the concern that Cameron’s renegotiation deal could be potentially hollow if it is voted down by the European Parliament.

    In one respect, it is a very good thing that the European Parliament does have the right to scutinise the deal – an important thing for which MEPs have striven to establish. This is because there needs to be changes to the legislation to effect the aspects of the deal concerning benefits to migrant workers. So, it is perfectly possible that the deal could fall through if enough Parliamentarians vote against it. There will of course be some dissenters – like Alexander Graf Lambsdorff – and that, as I say, is absolutely fair enough in a democracy.

    But I think that Parliament will approve, and overwhelmingly so.

    Firstly, there is the realpolitik that says it’s far better for the UK to be inside the tent than to throw the deal (and the UK) out (Lambsdorff himself says in the interview that he would prefer the UK to remain). There is also the ‘slipperly slope’ argument that says a UK that leaves could well trigger others – but, as we saw in Brussels, there is a strong feeling that Europeans want the UK to be ‘in’.

    Secondly, Martin Schulz, who will be President of the Parliament until just after the UK referendum, was fully in touch with the negotiations at the February European Council (as were the leaders of all the main European Parliament groupings) and has stated that he is supportive, while being careful to state that there can be no guarantees. Here is Schulz himself (speaking ahead of the Council). I’m presuming that the EPP (the Christian Democrats, which will take over the Presidency from Schulz and which are the majority group in Parliament) will also approve (although this is the group that Conservative Party MEPs, under Cameron’s command, left after the European elections in 2009 – which introduces a juicy additional note to this process). Equally, the EPP has no desire to see the UK leave and, in fact, it has welcomed the deal.

    Should it come to a vote in the Parliament (it won’t if the UK votes out), my guess is that there will be quite legitimate grumblings among MEPs on this issue – cutting benefits to one section of the community on the basis of their nationality is an abhorrent thing to do, and I agree here absolutely with Lambsdorff (who, by the way, sits with the ALDE group in the Parliament, which is the liberal group). Nevertheless, I would expect MEPs to vote strongly in favour.

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