Car-making giant Ford this week added their voice to the pro-EU campaign, with Steve Odell, who runs the firm’s European arm, arguing that by leaving Europe the UK would be “cutting off its nose to spite its face”. He pointed out how frustrating it would be to try and trade with the EU from outside, saying he would “strongly advise against leaving the EU for business purposes, and for employment purposes in the UK”.
The company, which currently provides 15,000 British jobs, joins Honda, who earlier this month argued “anything that weakens our ability to trade with the [EU] region would be detrimental to UK manufacturing”. And in November Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said his company would reconsider its “strategy and investments for the future” if Britain withdraws. The UK car industry, which has expanded massively over the last ten years, remains reliant on foreign – and especially European – exportation, with 40% of the 1.5 billion cars made here going to EU countries.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the industry’s trade association, this week announced they would be compiling a report, expected to be published in spring, which will underline an industry-wide commitment to Europe. The study will aim to debunk pre-European Election myths that the EU is bad for business, pointing out how vital membership is to the continuing growth of the sector.
The views of Ford and other companies go directly against the current attitude of the British government. George Osborne this week complained that “Europe accounts for just over 7% of the world’s population, 25% of its economy, and 50% of global social welfare spending. We can’t go on like this”. The numbers were intended to underline the supposed wastefulness of the EU, yet they in fact illustrate a different point: that by working together European countries are able to punch significantly above their weight – making up a quarter of the global economy despite having less than a tenth of the global population.
Osborne, in his attempts to appease his own backbenchers, may try to frame the debate as British belt-tightening Vs EU profligacy. But in reality, as the views of Ford and others in the motor industry show, he is setting himself and his party at odds with the interests of British manufacturing and the international business consensus.
This week also saw singer Beyonce speak out about what she calls “the myth about gender equality”. Writing a short essay as part of The Shriver Report – an annual investigation into gender equality in America – the R’n’B singer wrote that “Women make up half of the US workforce, but the average working woman earns only 77% of what the average working man makes…Equality will be achieved when men and women are granted equal pay and equal respect”.
Beyonce may not fit with some people’s idea of a ‘feminist’ – and, indeed, she distances herself from the term – yet she is spot on in her diagnosis. The belief we have already reached parity between men and women undermines efforts to bring about genuine equality, and creates complacency. It has become too easy for those on the political right to end the debate by asserting that it is already won. We need more people in the public eye to follow Beyonce’s lead and speak out.