Today is the last day of the European Union (EU) referendum campaign that has been divisive and at times very bitter. I offer five reasons why it is better to remain in the EU as opposed to leave.
This is by far the most popular reason why people vote to leave the EU. Leave campaigners say that there is an “EU migration crisis” and that it is causing a strain on jobs, public services and resources.
However, behind such catchy headlines lay a different reality. Mass European migration is actually to a large degree contributing to the relative growth of the UK economy. Research from University College London shows European migrants pay in more in taxes than they take out in state benefits (in fact the proportion of EU migrants claiming benefits is nearly twice less than the national average). That contribution – valued at £2bn a year – is helping not only the UK economy but also pay for national insurance and taxes that go into the NHS and benefit system.
The UK population is aging and without immigration from the EU the population would have shrank over the last 20 years and young people would have been burdened by massive tax and national insurance contribution hikes to just maintain the current level of pension and benefits.
That pension and benefits have seen cuts and erosion has nothing to do with EU migrants; on the contrary, without them there would be a need for further cuts. The real reason for the savage cuts in public spending is the right wing ideology of the Conservative government which believes in a small state and privatising public services, including the NHS, education, postal system and even benefits. It, however, suits the right wing in this country to deflect public anger from their policies and blame immigrants, who often are not well represented politically and therefore relatively voiceless, thus scapegoating them and focusing public outrage away from the cause of the problems: UK government policies.
Over 60% of the 2 million EU citizens living in the UK are university graduates and work in many sectors, from the NHS to science and technology, where they make an overwhelming contribution to the UK. In other words, a majority of EU migrants are in well paid jobs. There is no denying that some come to work as baristas, waiters and retail etc, although they do not form the majority.
There is a perception, fanned by the Vote Leave campaign, that low paid EU migrant workers are “taking away British jobs” and “lowering pay”. Firstly, as outlined above this is simply not true but, more importantly, these jobs are available for anyone who chooses to apply, and many British people do not wish to. While it is true that unskilled jobs are badly paid the reason has nothing to do with EU migrants. Secondly. if the government wanted to, these jobs would be better remunerated for everyone within a few days; the reason this is not happening is the right wing ideology behind government policies that encourage zero working hours and various loop holes not to pay even the pitiful UK minimum wage. So to blame EU migrants for the situation is unfair and again can be seen as means to deceive the public: the real reason is that business elites who are involved directly or indirectly with the current UK government want to keep wages low by means of policies that encourage it, so they can have higher profits on the backs of workers.
The EU’s Social Charter guarantees positive rights and freedoms that concern people’s lives and their work: housing, health, education, labour rights, full employment, protection from unfair dismissal, reduction of working hours, equal pay for equal work, parental leave, social security, social and legal protection from poverty and social exclusion, free movement of persons and non-discrimination, and also the rights of migrant workers and persons with disabilities. Under the leadership of the Conservatives many articles of this charter have been opted out by the UK and what both the Leave camp and some Remain-supporting Conservatives want is either scrap it all together (former) or water it further down (latter). Both these camps see the Social Chapter as “choking” business, when in reality it only enhances prosperity for all in a more just distribution of wealth.
It is surely the case that anyone who wants to secure more decent living standards for the vast majority of people would be to vote to remain and fight for the whole social charter to be ratified by the UK, not the reverse. Some left-wing supporters on the Leave side think that leaving the EU would give the UK more “worker rights” while in reality the opposite is far more likely t happen. Furthermore, as much as there is concern about British jobs the reality is that around 3.5 million British jobs are directly linked to British membership of the European Union – 1 in 10 British jobs – which will be at risk if we vote to leave.
Power to the people
The Leave campaign says the EU is remote and imposing undemocratic rules and laws that harm people in the UK. The slogan is “Take Back Control” – but the reality is quite the reverse. We will come back to the claim of “undemocratic” later, for now we note that the EU firstly enshrines consumer rights in its laws and regulations and also enables compensations if these rights are infringed, for example travel/flight delays, lower credit cards fees, abolishing phone roaming charges and so on. Within such standards and legislation the EU has taken strong provisions against multinationals, not the reverse, as claimed by the Leave campaign. Recently the EU fined giants like Microsoft, Samsung and Toshiba for unfair competition.
The Leave campaign say the UK could negotiate better trade deals. In some respects they are correct (and from our perspective, for the wrong reasons), in others wrong. They are right in one sense as the Conservative Party on the whole favours far more enthusiastically trade deals like TTIP which would give far more power to multinationals over small business and workers rights, and would allow public services to be sold to them. The EU, by contrast, has been stalling many of the more controversial aspects of TTIP that would violate the social chapter, and as a result the EU is unlikely to sign trade deals that would erode worker, consumer and human rights of EU citizens. What the leave campaign fails to tell you is that they not only reject the social chapter but they will wish to erode worker rights even more, and leaving the EU is a tool for them to achieve that.
Furthermore, because they EU is a huge trading block it can negotiate such deals while maintaining workers rights and freedoms, while the UK alone will have less influence and will be unlikely to protect the already watered down (thanks to various UK opt-outs) protections.
The EU standards are there to protect people and their lives, restricting unbridled and irresponsible exploitation of the environment by big business. EU environment laws ensure commonly agreed EU standards, to which our government must adhere in terms of improving the quality of air, rivers and beaches. In fact, under the Conservative government the UK vetoed strong EU wide environment legislations and filed amendments to weaken it.
So when Leave campaigners tell you Brexit will enable us to “Take Back Control” they mean – take back control to big corporations and right wing policies – away from ordinary people who will have less control and power.
MEPs across the UK are elected in far more democratic and transparent system of Proportional Representation, as opposed to Westminster’s First Past the Post.
As regards to accountability, this is how the EU commission (equivalent of the government) works: a new team of 28 Commissioners (one from each EU Member State) is appointed every five years. The candidate for President of the Commission is proposed to the European Parliament by the European Council that decides by qualified majority and taking into account the elections to the European Parliament.
The Commission’s President is then elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members (which corresponds to at least 376 out of 751 votes). Following this election, the President-elect selects the 27 other members of the Commission, on the basis of the suggestions made by Member States. The final list of Commissioners-designate has then to be agreed between the President-elect and the Council. The Commission as a whole needs the Parliament’s consent. Prior to this, Commissioners-designate are assessed by the European Parliament committees.
The EU commissioners are elected by member states’ governments, a process to make it more democratic and directly elected by the public has been blocked by the UK, which wants selfishly to control and limit the democratic process, not enhance and make it more accountable and transparent.
The process is certainly more democratic and transparent than the granting of titles and seats in the House of Lords, or (at a different level) the negotiation of coalitions in our Scottish local authorities (In Scotland we have the lowest level of democracy in local government across Europe).
The case for Remain then is that the EU is not only more transparent and accountable than the UK government it takes our government to task regarding these matters. In fact the UK, under the Conservatives, has tried to continually sabotage this process, do you think the right of the Conservative Party would therefore want more or less democracy? Of course the answer is the latter.
Last but not least we have the issues of LGBTI and gender equality. Many UK legislations that discriminated against LGBTI people have been repealed or forced to change by the EU. Equal pay for men and women is enshrined in EU law, as are at least 20 days paid leave and the rights of expectant mothers to sufficient maternity leave.
That’s progressive EU legislation, as are the bans on discrimination (on the basis of age, race or sexual orientation or gender-identity), the right to paid time off to look after a child who is ill and protections for part-time workers.
Furthermore the EU has anti-discrimination policy regarding LGBTI citizens, freedom of movement for LGBTI families, workplace diversity, enlargement and foreign policy. The latter ensures that countries, like Turkey, who violate LGBTI rights or do not meet the EU standards will not be allowed to join the EU until they change their laws and policies. Therefore the claim by Leave campaigners that Turkey will be admitted to the EU is false as this will not happen unless Turkey democratises and meets the human rights stands for the EU that includes LGBTI rights (in fact Turkey is doing the reverse in both cases). If the UK leaves the EU it is likely it will strike deals which will tie our economy even further to countries which vigorously oppose human/LGBTI rights, such as China, Russia, Turkey and Arab states, rather than the reverse.
In conclusion, if you hold to the values of equality, workers’ rights, power to the people and democracy, I hope I have shown you that Voting to Remain would be far more beneficial than to Leave. Leaving, in my view, will erode these key values. Furthermore, there is a lot to be said about European values, which I have not touched upon. Vote Leave have consistently used lies and inaccuracies in their arguments to mislead you to think that the UK would be better off “Taking Control” of immigration, democracy, and workers’ rights – when in reality the reverse is true. Vote leave and inevitably hard-won rights and democracy will be weakened, with far more power given to greedy corporations and trade deals that will only serve to further strengthen multinationals and redistribute wealth upwards.