The current debate on the advantages and disadvantages of Britain remaining within the European Union [EU] are, in my opinion, a distraction from what this government is doing to our country. The democracy that we have fought for over centuries is being challenged by Cameron and his supporters both in and out of government and it has nothing to do with our position in Europe. If anything, what this government is doing, not simply proposing to do, has more to do with Britain’s relationship with the USA than with the rest of Europe. However, the “Should we stay or should we go” debate is slowly heating up and already we are seeing some interesting clashes (get it?) between prominent members of both camps, those who think we should remain in the EU and those who think we should leave. Ironically, we are in a similar position to the one in 1958 when the French President, Charles De Gaulle suggested that allowing Britain to become a member of the Common Market [EU] would only open the door for the United States [Britain’s closest ally] to get involved in its’ affairs. There was clearly no love lost between the French and the Americans at that time and any interference by the US would have been seen as an attempt to undermine socialism. Britain had no such concerns about the US, with each of our political parties keen to forge even stronger ties with America than those that already existed. The critics who attacked De Gaulle however, had no understanding of the struggle and human sacrifice that led to France becoming a republic or the public’s bloody battles against fascism in other European countries. Britain may have emerged as the first industrialised nation in Europe which led to the formation of trade unionism and the Labour movement but its’ people were never likely to revolt against the ruling classes regardless of how unfairly they ruled the country.
Historically, the union between European States was an agreement designed to ease the wheels of trade between member countries, all of which had to be governed by a democratically elected authority. The union began in the late 1950s and was predominantly used by steel producers and other manufacturers of heavy goods. Britain however, was not invited into the original union, later known as The Common Market because it was seen as being rather too aloof from the rest of Europe. The humiliation Britain suffered following its’ failed invasion of Suez in 1956 didn’t help matters either. However, whilst Britain may have appeared arrogant to some, there was no disputing its’ ability to stand on its’ own two feet. The UK’s manufacturing base was stronger than ever and we were exporting goods all over the world, not just to those countries across the channel from us. It didn’t bother us that France, the most influential of the original EU members, remained hostile towards any suggestion to invite Britain to join because Britain was still going through that “never had it so good” period. We did eventually join the EU in 1970 but it was a miserable coupling and in 1975, the Labour government held a referendum on whether to remain together or to divorce. Obviously, we stayed together [ the vote being roughly two thirds for staying in ] but by that time both Britain and the EU had changed radically. It was around this time that West Germany began to emerge as the strongest economy in Europe and the boost to Britain’s manufacturing industries that had been Edward Heath’s main reason for joining the Common Market/EU in the first place, had never materialised. It was stalled by an overwhelming number of industrial disputes, much higher than inflation wage demands and an unprecedented amount of militant skullduggery on behalf of the trade unions.
The Labour Party that returned to government shortly after Edward Heath signed the Treaty of Rome in 1973 envisaged the rest of Europe becoming a capitalist, anti-socialist club and with good reason. There were many non-partisan critics who thought that the treaty made perfectly clear its’ federalist aims however, the real difficulties began to emerge once certain European trade policies started to take effect. In particular, the Agriculture and Fisheries policy. This had a devastating effect on British households, especially in the coastal towns of the North where fishing was one of the major industries. Harold Wilson who was leader of the opposition at the time fought hard to gather support amongst the Labour Party for Heath’s decision to apply for membership of the union and succeeded. However, a week later he was arguing against accepting the terms on which Heath had negotiated with France, mainly because he believed that the Common Agricultural Policy imposed a grossly unfair burden on Britain. Heath got his way on this occasion, or, depending on your viewpoint, France came out on top and thereby began a clandestine war of words between Britain and the rest of Europe that has raged ever since. Prime Minister Thatcher had her battles with Europe as did her successor, John Major – the latter falling foul of the world recession which closely followed the reunification of Germany in November 1989. Britain had been locked into the Exchange Rate Mechanism [ERM] prior to Major being elected however, when the German Budget moved from a surplus of $48 billion in 1990 to a deficit of $21 billion a year later, Britain’s savers, investors, pensioners and businesses lost heavily. The political costs were also huge, with John Major, who until then had been doing a reasonable job as Prime Minister, losing a great deal of credibility amongst his peers which wasn’t helped by the “retired” Margaret Thatcher shouting out “I told you so” at every opportunity. However, much of the blame for Britain’s economic disaster could be laid upon his chancellor, Norman Lamont and it’s no surprise to learn that Mr Lamont is currently in favour of Britain leaving the EU.
Moving on from my, all too brief, summary of how Britain became part of the European Community [EU] I want to look at the arguments being put forward by both the “Remain” and the “Leave” groups. The former appear to be the larger of the two factions and includes the Prime Minister along with a majority of his cabinet and the Parliamentary Labour Party [PLP]. However, I am not convinced that the PLP’s position is entirely robust and I know of many Labour MPs around the country who intend to vote Leave. Personally, I believe that the “Leave” campaigners are the more intelligent, more honest of the two groups and for that reason alone, I would go along with them. Another reason why I would probably go with the leavers is that I don’t care for “Project Fear” which is what the critics are calling Cameron’s “Remain” campaign. However, we should consider the arguments first, starting with perhaps, the biggest fear – the collapse of our economy and the subsequent loss of jobs. This is a scary thought however, no one has actually said where those jobs would be lost and are we really expected to believe that our economy, which is currently the strongest in Europe, will collapse the minute we leave the union? I mentioned previously the recession of the late eighties/early nineties but we are much less dependent on the rest of Europe than we were sixteen years ago. If anything, Europe is now more reliant on us. For example, Britain imports sixty billion pounds worth of goods and services more from the other EU members than we export back to them. As for job losses, the British work-force has already lost thousands of jobs due to the influx of workers from those newer members of the EU such as Poland, Latvia, Romania and Croatia. New Labour’s Jack Straw may have coined the phrase “Economic migrants” back in the Nineties as a way of pacifying the British public but it has since become obvious that Big business likes uncontrolled EU immigration because it is cheap, non-unionised labour. It’s all very well to say that these foreign workers are only taking jobs which British workers are refusing to do but the truth is that many of these employees are working in conditions which breach Health and Safety rulings.
A recent “stunt” saw a number of UK business leaders pledging their support for the Remain campaign and again, using the threat of job losses as their major concern. One of the most vocal business voices belongs to Lord Stuart Rose [ former boss of Marks and Spencer] however, he has made so many questionable claims in his support of the Remain campaign that he has since been sidelined from the debate. One of the Lord’s many “gaffes” was to say that Britain’s membership of the EU was worth £3000 to every UK family despite having no evidence to support his claim. The “Britain stronger in Europe” group put the value of EU membership at around one tenth of Lord Rose’s figure but again, there are hardly any facts being bandied about to support any claim. However, there is evidence to suggest that UK families would benefit from Britain leaving the EU. For example, by coming out of the EU’s Agricultural policy, our food prices would be reduced by at least seventeen per-cent and there are other examples where a UK family would see a reduction in household expenditure if we were to leave the EU. As for the benefits of membership, I would like to know why certain EU manufactured goods such as cars, can be purchased more cheaply elsewhere in Europe than in the UK? However, if we look at some of those businesses supporting the Remain campaign it is clear that most of them are multi-nationals who are not averse to shedding workers whenever it best suits them. For example, Marks and Spencers [M&S], whilst being a homegrown business with a worldwide reputation has a long history of transferring its’ business dealings overseas. Many M&S product ranges which had once been manufactured inside the UK are now made elsewhere. The boss of the sexy lingerie retailer, Ann Summers, also spoke out in support of the Remain group however, I doubt whether the disappearance of her shops would be much of a loss to Britain’s high-street, especially as there are much better outlets selling similar products out there.
There are some brand names that it would be hard to imagine our high streets without, popular retailers, restaurants and banks etc. but whether we stay in the EU or not, I suspect they will survive or even prosper. However, those businesses which do appear to suffer from our EU membership are our small to medium sized enterprises [SMEs] who, unlike the corporate giants, don’t have a coterie of expensive lawyers at their disposal. We should point out that despite being described as small to medium, a lot of these businesses are pretty big and together employ two thirds of Britain’s workforce. However, SMEs don’t usually have the means to offset the huge costs of EU regulations which therefore gives the multi-nationals an unfair advantage. It also explains why UK firms which are predominantly SMEs, don’t sell enough of their products and services abroad. The EU which was originally designed to increase trade between member States is now failing to do just that. In 2014, only eleven per-cent of UK based SMEs exported their goods and services and since 2009, more of those exports have gone to non-EU countries than to EU ones. The reason why Europe isn’t buying from us is not because our products and services aren’t good enough, it’s not a case of our fruit and veg being the wrong shape or anything stupid like that, it is simply a matter of everything within the EU being subjected to the most appalling levels of bureaucracy imaginable. There is so much red tape to cut through that most UK SME owners have neither the time nor the energy to begin. Ironically, we have a government that is pressing for us to remain in the EU with all its’ enterprise-defeating“bells and whistles” whilst simultaneously disabling our own control mechanisms in order to allow foreign companies, the USA in particular, to set up shop in the UK thereby putting homegrown companies out of business..
The other major scare in the Remain campaign’s arsenal of weapons to fight off a revolt by those who think they might be better off voting to leave, is that once Britain is no longer a member of the EU we will become more vulnerable. Not only will we not have the other European States to protect us from our enemies but we will also see a rise in homeland terrorist attacks. However, we look towards NATO for our defence not the EU and whilst there is no doubting that Europe has become less secure as the union has grown there is little to suggest that membership makes us any less vulnerable. Personally, I feel that ever since the number of countries within the EU reached twenty eight, many of them not entirely democratic, the threat of terrorism has grown. Britain has become home to many individuals who do not have our best interests at heart. People who do not respect our laws and yet, use the EU’s legal system to seek financial rewards often relating to claims of discrimination, intimidation, harassment or wrongful detention. Claims that would struggle to establish proof beyond all reasonable doubt in a British court of law are costing our tax-payers millions of pounds in both legal costs and compensation awards. We have the ridiculous situation whereby a young mother whose child accidently drops a half eaten sausage roll in the street is prosecuted and fined* whilst a non-British Faith leader preaching hatred towards the community which has provided his sanctuary is left alone. I appreciate that these are sensitive times but I’m far less concerned about slipping on a bit of flaky pastry which incidentally, was swiftly removed by a passing pigeon than I am about some crackpot cleric wishing me dead because I happen to be a Christian. It is only to be expected that, with open borders allowing thousands of people to arrived unchecked into Britain, there are bound to be some undesirables coming in. However, even when detected, EU law has made it harder to deport convicted foreign criminals.
There is no doubt that this Conservative government has failed miserably to manage immigration. They began five years ago by announcing that under their improved administration, migrant numbers would be reduced to only tens of thousands per year but the actual number has grown ten-fold since and the government now admit that they have lost control of it altogether. [In fairness to the current government, the migration “problem” was created by Tony Blair and New Labour long before they left office in 2010]. However, Caroline Lucas MP, argues that Britain should celebrate “the wonderful gift” of freedom of movement, the policy that gives all EU citizens the right to live and work in the UK. Personally, I feel that campaigners like Lucas confuse the current situation with how things were in the 1950s when Britain encouraged our Commonwealth citizens to move here. I love being part of a multicultural Britain and truthfully believe that our lives have been enriched by the many wonderful gifts that people from different cultures have brought to the UK however, I don’t share Ms Lucas’s view that these newly arrived EU immigrants are our friends and neighbours. I’m not saying that they can’t be or that they shouldn’t be. It is just that the view from where I sit is that they are largely keeping to themselves, living in what can only be described as ghettos and not assimilating themselves or their children into the British way of life. It is a difficult position to take because it could so easily lead to unpleasant accusations but sometimes you have to put political correctness to one side and see things as they really are and not as how you would like them to be.
The date for the EU referendum has now been set as the 23rd June 2016 which only allows us a few months in which to make up our minds. I am almost certain that the short time scale plus the huge amount of negative campaigning will result in a win for the Remain campaign, not that I will be voting to stay. I will ignore those warnings about, “The risks involved”, “The uncertainty should we leave the EU” etc. because, like it or not, we live with Risk every day of our lives. We take risks all the time without suffering too harshly as a consequence and sometimes, things actually work out much better than we ever expected. However, even those undecided voters agree that negative campaigning worked in Scotland when they were offered the chance of independence and it will most probably work again in this instance. Nevertheless, as I said at the beginning of this post, the referendum is simply a distraction, something to occupy our minds and our newspaper columns whilst this government pushes through more of their reforms. In the past few weeks we have seen the chancellor lower the rate of Income Tax for high earners which he argues will actually raise more revenue from this group although, I fail to see how that will work. Jeremy Hunt is busy enabling even more NHS contracts to be handed over to North American “Health” providers and just to make investing in our Health service even more lucrative, the government has also scrapped the ruling that prevents “Tax avoiding private companies” from securing NHS contracts. You may think, so what? but with contracts worth billions of pounds going to companies based off-shore rather than in the UK, the British tax-payer is being screwed twice over. In many cases the tax-payer is paying much more than it should pay for services which could be provided by UK based companies and then losing out on the tax revenue these companies would normally pay. Elsewhere, the government’s drive towards neutralising the power of our Trade Unions is gathering pace. The ending of DOCAS [Deduction of Contributions at Source] will almost certainly weaken the official Opposition Party just as the culling of our Members of Parliament [MPs] from 650 to 600 will impact more on the Labour Party than it will on The Conservatives. The government is also busy redrawing our constitutional boundaries in such a way that parts of England which have historically been hard to guess politically will become safer seats for Conservative MPs. All of these reforms leave me feeling that democracy is no longer a priority for our governors whereas in the rest of Europe, democracy is seen as the essential component underpinning a civilised society. Britain however, is fast becoming a one-party nation whilst the rest of Europe is moving further to the Right and quite frankly, if countries such as Turkey are being considered for membership, where do we draw the line? We can start by voting to leave the EU.
*This happened to a young mother in Hull recently.