As David Cameron jets round Europe to seal his EU reform deal, and with the various leave campaigns squabbling and in chaos, the big issues facing voters in the referendum mustn’t be lost.
The EU referendum is not about the future of the prime minister or the dramas of the Tory Party or which mad right-winger is running which leave campaign, but about working people – about workers’ jobs and workers’ rights. It will be about trade. About security, consumer rights, the environment, the future of our country and the futures of everyone in it.
Remaining in the European Union is vital for all these things. There are no circumstances under which we would be better off outside the EU, so we must not allow talk of this deal to eclipse the bigger picture.
That said, as Labour MEPs, we have worked hard to ensure that one of the biggest advantages we enjoy from being in the EU – workplace rights – were not up for discussion and have not been weakened as part of this deal. It is thanks to Labour, our trade union colleagues and our sister parties across Europe that David Cameron was not able to negotiate away our rights, and we must now ensure working people keep these rights by remaining in the EU.
These are major employment rights for working people in Britain, including a minimum four weeks’ paid holiday; a right to parental leave; extended maternity leave; the same protection for part-time workers as full-time workers, anti-discrimination laws, and protection for the workforce when companies change ownership.
Labour MEPs are working not just to protect but to extend these rights, for example to cover the abuse of zero-hour contracts. We will fight to stamp down on abuse of these contracts to exploit workers and avoid paying fair wages, and we want to tackle employers who exploit workers from other countries to undercut wages – this is the agenda we would be advancing if we were the ones negotiating reform.
And it is not just as workers but as consumers that British people are better off in the EU. Holidaymakers no longer face extortionate mobile phone bills when holidaying or working within the EU, and by June next year there will be no more huge bills; travellers whose flights are delayed or cancelled have rights to recompense; we receive equal consumer rights when shopping anywhere in Europe, with greater quality and safety of products.
Most obviously of all, being in the EU means we are free to travel throughout all 28 countries, free to work wherever we wish, free to trade with whom we want.
Looking at the bigger picture, when it comes to tackling the biggest crises we face, from climate change to terrorism to the refugee crisis, from regulating global banks and markets to tackling tax avoidance – issues that can only be tackled at international level through cooperation and joint action – we are self-evidently better off inside a multi-nation Union than going it alone, isolated and powerless.
We now have the details of the draft deal, and while Cameron dashes across Europe to secure it, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that our EU membership is worth far more than whatever he secures.
The time is nearly here, and when that time comes, it’ll be time to end the uncertainty, to vote for the future, to vote to remain.
Glenis Willmott MEP is leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party.