Monica Threlfall, vice chairman, London4Europe, argues that Remainers must become more prominent in their belief that the UK should still refrain from leaving the EU, and the June elections has only made this more urgent. Britain can have a strong role to play in the EU, becoming prominent in ensuring greater well-being for all its citizens and practicing its well-honed diplomatic skills and international experience. Why lose prominence?
Ever since the Referendum of June 2016, the Brexit ship has been taking on water, starting with its fundamental pledges:
- Moving £350 million – supposedly saved by leaving – into the NHS every year was never going to be feasible.
- Throwing out non-British workers so that Brits could take their jobs turned out to be a fantasy, strongly resisted by employers.
- Getting rid of the ECJ’s jurisdiction “over our laws” together with our compliance with “their” laws turned out to be a threat to everybody’s employment, living and welfare conditions in one way or another, down to the very last consumer.
Ever since, no government boast, nor leavers’ blind optimism has been able to come up with any reason or evidence of how the population of the UK would be better off and the standing and prosperity of the country enhanced by leaving the EU. Only our leaders’ pride keeps them talking about ‘negotiations’ and ‘getting a good deal’ as if the future of Britain depended on haggling for lower prices at a French farmers’ market. If they had our welfare at heart, they would reveal that the British boat had lost its steering and could only drift away into isolation, cutting loose from friends and allies – unless it changed course and tried to return to its former coordinates.
Now that it is becoming steadily clearer that any future international, economic, and cultural positions for the UK will be worse than the present ones, the only logical question is: why try to leave the EU? Why not stop? Were any of the country’s woes actually caused by membership? Does anybody want to give up the named advantages of membership?
Being part of the EU is key for Britain’s continued peace and security. Why leave?
For centuries Britons lived in a war-torn continent. Current European member states engaged in 64 wars with each other since 1700, culminating in the worst mutual massacres of all time during two world wars. Yet, uniquely in modern history, six countries including worst enemies France and Germany found the way to put an end to the incessant bloodshed: creating the European Community, now Union, in which members set up a cooperative framework in which equal partners would attempt to draw together, to integrate their economies and converge over certain policies where this is of mutual benefit. European Union countries have thus avoided further wars and lived, on average, in growing prosperity for over 70 years.
Membership of the EU has been beneficial for the British economy, after it joined in a state of economic decline. Why leave?
The EU’s vast single market, strongly governed by mutually-agreed rules, offers an advantageous environment on for trading, investing, job-creation, scientific research, new skills training, that only the very big nations such as the US, China Russia, can attempt on their own in the 21st century. Britain is too small in world terms to prosper alone, but by joining with its geographical, it can. Proximity matters. Britain is part of the European continent, no other. While trade across oceans is feasible, the single market is made with immediate neighbouring states. The EU has become the biggest player in global trading and the largest economic block in the world, overtaking the US. Britain cannot be better off trading alone with disparate countries outside of Europe.
If we leave, Britain cannot get a better trading deal than the 0% tariffs it already enjoys. Why leave?
The EU’s ever-expanding regulated single market for goods and labour gives barrier-less, tariff-free access to member states. As an outsider, especially one that wants to keep even educated hard working free-moving non-British European employees out, Britain would have to pay tariffs, and would face non-tariff barriers as well, since differing employment conditions impede fair competition over products, constrains wholly free trade, and incurs further costs.
Employees in the UK have much to lose from becoming outsiders to the EU. Why leave?
The Prime Minister knows this, which is why she is threatening EU negotiators with making Britain a low-wage, low-safety economy that plans to trade by trying to undercut advanced economies where skilled employees have come to expect good wages and safe working conditions. Britain has been such a country, but no longer. Wages and conditions have been deteriorating for several categories of workers (public sector employees, self-employed and part-time workers amongst others). Brexit would accelerate this fall in our standards of living. What’s more, Britain could never beat the new Asian manufacturing economies on low labour costs, and much less compete successfully with the advanced economies on the basis of what remains of UK high skills/high productivity sector (the high quality of products created in relation to the costs of producing them) without the contribution of the skilled from other EU countries, be they doctors and nurses, or City analysts and technology entrepreneurs.
The EU has become the most socially advanced block in the world. Why leave?
The EU’s social policies and protections in the area of health and safety at work and consumer health have been a strong lever for overall social progress, pushing standards up. As the EU does not allow downgrading of laws, once agreed, a safe and fair working environment provides the framework for human wellbeing. In the 1970s Britain was ahead of most on health & safety at work and on race discrimination. Since then, Directives have been adopted to spread those higher standards to the rest of the EU, making others catch up with the UK. Sadly, we are no longer ahead on social progress, as many international indicators show.
By remaining in the EU, we keep all existing protective laws on non-discrimination, equality, protection at work, parents’ rights, the work/life balance, and a raft of consumer protections. Why leave?
Within the EU jurisdiction, rights, once approved by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, cannot be downgraded later. Enforcement of rights are also foreseen in the European Treaties, which are directly applicable to individual EU citizens who can individually claim their enforcement straight to the European Court of Justice. And while we are in the EU, British governments cannot overlook, for instance, the reintroduction of asbestos into manufacturing since they have signed a Directive against this in the EU Council of Ministers.
So if the UK left the EU, all inhabitants, whether consumers or employees or women or men, would cease to enjoy the solid unchallengeable long-term protections we currently have. Once outside, our social rights will be less entrenched. Any UK government will be able to try to downgrade them via a simple Act of Parliament passed with a majority of as little as one.
The EU has mechanisms (court cases, fines etc) to enforce its agreed laws. It is currently using them to save Londoners from having to breathe in excess nitrogen dioxide. Why leave?
The EU Commission was the first to point out in 2010 that the British government and London mayor Boris Johnson were allowing illegal emissions of nitrogen dioxide that it had previously agreed to keep to a fixed level (applicable to all EU members). A final warning to the UK and 4 other member states was issued by the Commission in February 2017. Without the EU, Britons would have been left to breathe in poison indefinitely. 50,000 people are estimated to have died prematurely already.
Only the EU has the power to bring large corporations that damage state interests or the environment to book, precisely because it represents the will of 27 independent countries and acts as a block. Why leave?
Single countries alone mostly cannot make reluctant corporations compliant with, for instance, tax or environmental legislation. The case of Google avoiding its share of taxes is a case in point. Britain acting alone through Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs HMRC felt powerless to extract from the corporate giant more than a very modest amount. By contrast, the EU took it on, forcing Google to defend its practices in court. True, Google’s practices have not yet been ruled illegal, but the issue is still under examination.
The EU as a body is democratic in a similar way to the democracies that are its members. Its structure reflects the usual division of powers between the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary. In addition, it formally consults trades unions and companies, and even allows their agreements to become law. Regional authorities and women’s organisations also meet formally to feed back their preferences. Why Leave?
There is an Executive (the Commission) composed of distinguished individual Commissioners nominated by member-state governments. It has an indirectly elected leader (the President) and a professional administration selected by open competition equivalent to the British civil service. There is a Legislature with of two chambers, one made up of Ministers of member-states (the Council of Ministers), the other a directly elected European Parliament composed of MEPs from all the regions of the EU including the 11 UK regions. Once agreed, rules are enforced by a Court of Justice that is there to rules are effectively implemented. There is also an independent Court of Auditors, a senior member of which is British; and a European Anti-Fraud Office, made up of specialists from many states, whose Deputy Director is British.
The essence of the EU’s existence is democratic in so far as it was built as a cooperative of equal sovereign states build to pool some of their sovereignty and resources. It works through consensual joint decision-making. Its basic structure is designed to balance power between its supra-national institutions and the sovereign organs of the member states. In addition, most of its budget is spent on redistributing resources to the poorer regions of each of its members. As to its central objectives, jointly-agreed laws (eg. Directives and Regulations) in the economic and social fields seek to increase economic and social wellbeing, non-discrimination in daily life, and fair competition in trade. In this aspect, the EU sees itself as heading via economic and social integration to function as a democratic social state of law, albeit one that reflects the member-states’ priorities at particular times, when it can deviate from its founding principles, as in the treatment of refugees and migrants, pushed by member states and anti-immigrant publics.
The EU is not a talking shop – as sometimes alleged. It’s a dynamic structure that has grown peacefully through an active process of joint decision-making from 6 to 27 nations. All – including the UK – have increased their power and control over how the whole European continent behaves. The EU is also key world economic block that offers the UK a prominent role. Why leave?
The EU provides member states a forum in which to enhance their international profile and weight – by acting together. The institutions of the EU have become world players. Yet in the policy fields of international relations, the environment and immigration, coordination of EU member states has been slow and problems have intensified because of it. The lack of coherence and joint action shows that the world can be a better place if nations act together instead of individually.