#LEXIT: the Left Leave Campaign chair ROBERT GRIFFITHS challenges the case for Britain’s membership of the European Union.
FIVE MYTHS ABOUT THE EU
Three million jobs in Britain depend on membership of the EU and would be lost if we leave.
More jobs in Britain now depend on exports to the rest of the world. The share of Britain’s exports going to EU states has dropped steadily from over half (55 per cent) in 2007 to less than half (44 per cent) in 2015. Britain’s trade deficit with the EU has trebled, while that with the rest of the world has been cut by two-thirds.
Britain’s non-EU exports are growing by 5 per cent a year — while exports to the EU decline. By far the biggest growth markets are China, Switzerland and the Middle East. We don’t need to become part of the USA or China to have trading and other relations with them — why should the EU be different?
Just under half the stock (48 per cent) of foreign direct investment in Britain is from the EU, unchanged for a decade or more. But while the flow of new investment from the EU has shrunk to 19 per cent (latest 2014), the inflow from US companies remains constant (around 55 per cent) and continues to grow from the Far East (22 per cent).
All the EU structural funds spent in Britain (£4.6bn forecast for 2016) are dwarved by our annual net contribution to the EU budget (£15.2bn in 2016). In other words, Britain outside the EU could spend four times more on these agricultural, social and regional programmes by redeploying this net contribution.
EU treaties and laws prohibit member state governments from taking measures to save or create jobs which ‘distort’ competition and the free movement of capital, labour and commodities. This includes subsidies, import or capital controls, public procurement contracts favouring local workers or firms etc. Such restrictions have helped destroy millions of jobs in Britain in steel, coal, manufacturing and agriculture since joining the European Economic Community in 1973.
Outside the EU, Britain could negotiate mutually beneficial agreements with other countries instead of secretive EU pacts that benefit big business, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the USA.
Even outside the EU, we would still have to abide by EU trade rules in order to trade with it.
Most countries around the world require imported goods and services to comply with their own domestic standards and specifications. At the same time, European countries which trade with the EU such as Norway and Iceland still prefer to remain outside it and pursue their own economic, financial, social and foreign policies.
The EU runs a trade surplus with Britain on which four million export jobs on the European continent directly depend. It would be in the EU’s own interests to conclude a non- or low-tariff trade agreement with Britain. Any EU tariffs on imports from Britain would be limited under WTO rules and a British government could compensate exporters from its own tariff revenues.
As a major economic and political power and trading partner, Britain would be in a far stronger position than most other countries to reach a wide range of mutually beneficial agreements with the EU.
EU membership has brought many rights and benefits to ordinary people, especially at work.
Our main democratic, employment, trade union and welfare rights in Britain have been won by the sacrifices and struggles of the people — not gifted to us by our rulers here or in the EU.
Most of our employment, trade union, health and safety, equal pay, minimum wage and anti-discrimination rights have been enacted by British legislation. This includes the 1998 UK Working Time Regulations, which improved upon the EU Working Time Directive (28 days paid leave instead of 20 — although statutory bank holidays were not excluded); better rights for farm workers; and longer daily rest for young workers.
The original EU Working Time Directive allows member states to permit workers to opt out of a maximum 48-hour week, as the Blair government did.
In many areas of labour law, Britain is ahead of the EU, including in trade union recognition, collective bargaining rights and maternity leave, where we have the second longest entitlement of any country in Europe — 52 weeks with up to 39 of them paid, compared with 14 in the EU Directive (a rise to 18 has been under discussion since 2010!).
At the same time, EU directives have not closed the gender pay gap in Britain, limited the average working week to 48 hours or raised paid holidays to the average European level — only trade union action and national legislation can be relied upon to do that.
Furthermore, neither EU nor British legislation has prevented the average full-time worker in Britain having the third longest working week in the EU, behind only Greece and Austria. Workers in 21 other EU states have more statutory days off with pay (total leave and public holidays) than in Britain.
The EU has never sought to enact or enforce a statutory minimum wage, the right to strike or the right to join a trade union; nor does it protect workers against lock-outs. Article 153 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) explicitly forbids EU action in these areas.
The EU done nothing to protect workers in Britain from at least eleven Tory anti-trade union laws since 1979 and it will not defend us against the current Trade Union Bill. Only the strength of our own unions and the election of a different government at Westminster can do that.
Leaving the EU would jeopardise our freedom to travel, work and reside throughout Europe.
The ‘free movement of people’ principle in the Treaty of Rome (1957) has always been a cloak for the ‘free movement of labour’, so that workers can move more easily to where business can make a bigger profit from them. This goes alongside the free movement of capital and commodities, which also enables big business to maximise profits in the ‘Single European Market’ created after 1992.
The result has been mass migrations of capital, jobs and labour across Europe at the expense of national and regional economies, local communities and union negotiated terms and conditions of employment.
Cheaper, more flexible and super-exploited imported labour has been used as a form of ‘incomes policy’, holding down wages as profits and dividends go up.
Freedom to travel, work and live elsewhere need not depend on membership of a political and economic union. Visa and residency arrangements exist between Britain and most countries across the world, while the EU has reached similar agreements with Norway, Switzerland and other non-EU states in Europe.
Outside the EU, Britain would be isolated in a globalised world.
Most of the world is outside the EU, including six of the world’s 10 biggest economies. Britain, the fifth biggest, would make that seven.
The BRICS economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) account for 31 per cent of world output and more than half of global economic growth. The EU share of global GDP has fallen continuously from 28 per cent in 1990 to 17 per cent in 2015. Less than half (48 per cent) of Britain’s external trade is with the EU — even less (46 per cent) if non-EU trade routed through Rotterdam is excluded.
Britain would retain its membership of the UN Security Council, the OECD, the International Labour Organisation, the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and many other major international bodies, and regain its own independent seat at the World Trade Organisation.
Instead of being represented by the EU in international trade matters and bound by EU common foreign, defence and security policies,
Britain would be free to negotiate its own agreements in partmership with other countries across the world.