Business for Britain’s suggestions remind us of why we are pro-European

14th January, 2014 2:59 pm

Proposals put forwards this week should remind those of us on the left of the need to fight the good fight when it comes to Europe.

A set of suggestions put to the government, previewed in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, have been compiled by the right-wing Eurosceptic lobby group Business for Britain. They are part of its effort to have certain UK companies made exempt from EU guidelines. A paper released by the organisation today argues that British firms should be allowed to “opt out of some of the more onerous European regulations” in order to enhance “competitiveness”. They say doing so would save the UK £7 billion a year (a figure, incidentally, around a tenth of that which the CBI estimate that we gain each year from being in Europe).

That the man making the Business for Britain case is billionaire and former Tory Treasurer Peter Cruddas gives a sense of exactly where the group is coming from. It was announced at the weekend that Cruddas had joined Business for Britain’s eight man board – at present headed up by Matthew Elliott, founder of the Taxpayers’ Alliance – with the stated intention of “changing the terms of Britain’s EU membership”. His anti-EU offensive this week has centred on the apparently stifling level of “red tape” Britain is subjected to by Europe.

Presenting Euroscepticism as an attack on bureaucracy is a common – and unfortunately fairly effective – rhetorical device among those on the right. In enables protection for workers to be brushed aside as needless officialdom – vital safeguards on the financial sector to be dismissed as administrative window-dressing. It frames the debate in a way that, at first glance, is compelling to an outsider – no one wants more red tape, after all, do they? – but which in reality seeks to undermine employee rights and let businesses operate unchecked.

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The supposed “red tape” currently binding EU firms includes regulations which protect workers from exploitation and discrimination, and measures which mitigate against the risks attached to international finance. There may be occasional news stories about EU guidelines missing their target or being too prescriptive, but in the great majority of cases they act as a brake on businesses looking to take shortcuts or exploit loopholes.

As we move towards the European Elections in May the debate about EU membership is likely to move in one of two directions, either becoming a more and more negative discourse about immigration, or an increasingly technical debate about whether, in financial terms, Britain gains more than it loses through being part of Europe. If we are to set out a more positive argument about the EU we need to avoid colluding in the idea that all Directives from Brussels are bad, and instead remind voters that being part of Europe is a means of protecting our social fabric.

With the likes of Peter Cruddas leading the Eurosceptic charge – and a Tory Government in office which, unchecked by the EU, would seek to further undermine employees – it is vital that the Labour Party does not just pay lip service to the European Elections. We must be sure to see the wood for the trees when it comes to the EU, and to make the case strongly.

Mary Honeyball is Labour MEP for London

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  • Jonathan Roberts

    The idea that all regulations from the EU are a good thing is somewhat tone deaf.

    But I’ll give you an example. I work in the shipping industry, which is globally regulated by a UN body (the IMO). Global governments agree a global set of rules so that the global industry has a level playing field in which to operate. There is no need for the EU to regulate because the work is already done by countries coming together in a different forum – but it spends 10s of millions of pounds creating their own alternative versions of IMO regulations and wrecking the concept of global regulation in the process. Why does it do this?

    By all means ignore the concerns of the crackpots, but there is legitimate concern over the EU and you should be prepared to listen to it and understand it. Those who refuse to accept that the EU has significant flaws, and who fight any effort to deal with them, are just as much a danger as the outright EU-haters.

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    OK so we should support the EU because it guarantees workers rights and regulates business.

    Well what if the balance of political power shifted? What if the EU became more free-market, more Right wing, if the EU started passing directives deregulating, forcing privatisations, breaking up public services. Would you still support the EU then?

    The UK was fortunate, we kept the Pound and with it some of our sovereignty but during the financial crisis we saw the EU over-ruling democratically elected national governments, forcing austerity onto nation states to the point that some appeared to approach the brink of collapse. If that had been happening in the UK, if the EU was forcing through cuts of the size we saw in the periphery, closing NHS hospitals, slashing benefits, public sector pay-rolls would you still be out championing it?

    • Hugh

      Well, yes, clearly, since it pays her £80k a year salary – but I take your point.

      • Doug Smith

        Mandelson was on the radio the other day – speaking up for the EU. He’s 60 now, only five years to go before he qualifies for his £31,000 p.a. pension as an ex-EU commissioner (he did a four year stint).

        But there’s one little obligation he must fulfill to qualify – he must remain loyal to the EU, even though he is no longer a commissioner. We should expect to hear much more from Mandelson in support of the EU.

  • JoeDM

    We have tied ourselves to a failing political project that is not in our national interests.

    Better that we refocus to global ambitions with the growing world rather on the declining europe.

  • MrSauce

    I am basically pro-Europe, but it has become ridiculously wasteful.
    How many years is it since the EU accounts have been signed off as accurate and true?
    And tell us how that whole Strasbourg thing works again…
    Instead of sorting themselves out and functioning properly, they expand their activities and interfere in areas where they do not belong. Classic bureaucratic expansion.

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