When it comes down to it, this referendum is going to be about working people

22nd January, 2016 9:25 am


All the talk this week is of David Cameron telling business leaders to step up, speak out and make the case for Britain remaining in the EU.

On this he’s right, and more companies need to be vocal, saying out loud that we must remain in the European Union, and not let disruptive Eurosceptic campaigners bully them in to being silent or allow parts of the press to get away with misrepresenting their position – but it isn’t just about business nor is it really about Mr Cameron.

The EU referendum is not about the future of the prime minister, but the future of millions of working people, and the jobs and rights our membership brings. And in any case, the Tory leader’s priorities are not Labour’s priorities; the focus of our efforts in Europe are different to his.

Thankfully, some of the more damaging proposals originally floated for Cameron’s proposed EU reforms no longer appear to be on the table – like weakening existing EU legislation on working rights, a move that would have undermined the direct benefits working people see from our EU membership. Where are the proposals to end loopholes in working rights legislation that are used by exploitative employers to undercut terms and conditions? Where is the action on zero-hours contracts?

Whatever David Cameron may be talking about, Labour MEPs continue to campaign and to legislate, week in, week out, to put Labour values at the heart of Europe. Take this past week in the European Parliament, which saw Labour MEPs back proposals to improve British people’s consumer, health and employment rights and enhance their opportunities.

In Strasbourg over the last few days, Labour MEPs have: voted for a new EU law that will raise safety standards for gas appliances like boilers, cookers and barbecues, cutting the risk of deadly poisoning; backed a plan of action to increase the skills of young people to raise their chance of finding a job; and supported calls for national governments to act to promote female entrepreneurship, which could boost the UK economy by £60 billion over the next 15 years.

We have also voted for tougher EU-wide limits on sugar in baby foods, campaigned for Europe’s digital economy to be more inclusive, to ensure people in remote parts of Britain are not left behind and disconnected from the rollout of superfast broadband, and called for EU action to fight racism and discrimination to promote a stronger, more inclusive and tolerant society.

And on the floods and steel crises that have struck communities up and down the country, Labour MEPs have been pushing the Tory government to apply for EU funds to help those hit by the recent flooding, and to work with European colleagues to find a solution to the demise of the steel industry, which this week lost another thousand jobs in the UK.

Forget the prime ministerial political games, the machinations, the spin, damned spin and scaremongering of Farage and friends. When it comes down to it, this referendum is going to be about working people.

The part-time checkout assistant who gets equal rights because we’re in the EU; the factory worker for whom ‘health and safety’ isn’t red tape but a matter of life and death; the workers in companies large and small whose businesses depend directly or indirectly on trade with Europe… for all these people, for all working people, there are no circumstances under which they would be better off outside the EU.

So while Cameron tries to rally support from the slopes of Davos, Labour is getting on with delivering the changes we want to see in Europe – progressive changes with Labour values at their heart. We are doing it now and will carry on doing so – even after we have convinced the people that it is their interests – the British interest – to remain in the EU.

Glenis Wilmott MEP is Labour’s Leader in Europe

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