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

Labour Party
This blog post recently appeared on Labour List. Since it’s a very important issue, I am posting it again on this blog

Proposals recently put forward 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 the 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 argued 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. Cruddas has 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.

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 at some point in the future unchecked by the EU seeking 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.

Cameron’s shilly-shallying on Europe is not good for the country

Labour Party

The Tories are well and truly getting themselves in a twist on the EU.Europe, as we all know, was always their Achilles heels, a fault line which is getting deeper by the day.

By wading into these turbulent waters, big beast Eurosceptic Dr Liam Fox has heightened their problems and shown us an even more divided party. But it’s not just the Conservative Party in the frame. Since they are the leading part of the Con-Dem Coalition Government, this is something which affects the British people as a whole.

In a speech given tellingly to the right-wing think tank, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Dr Fox, according to ConservativeHome defied “the wisdom of the Conservative leadership by arguing that if we are not able to renegotiate significant powers back for Britain, we should leave the European Union”.   

It is, of course, bad enough that a former Cabinet Minister should attack his Party’s leadership in this way. It’s made even worse by David Cameron’s utter ineptness. Does he support a referendum or doesn’t her?  Liam Fox and 100 other Tory MPs think he doesn’t while others believe he might.

If it weren’t so serious, I would say that brewery and a lot to drink come to mind. Britain’s relationship with the European Union matters very much to our country. I can do no better than quote Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander writing in the Guardian on Saturday: “My fear is that the shambles over the last few days reveals more about the prime minister’s weakness in the party than the strength of his convictions about Europe. Whatever your view on Britain’s relationship with the EU, we all want the government’s approach to an issue this significant to start from only one place: consideration of what is best for Britain. I regret that this prime minister seems to be more concerned with managing party interests than governing in the national interest when it comes to Europe.”

Our national interest is at the very minimum to have a clear and well thought out strategy for Europe. It does no harm to repeat that the EU single market is the UK’s largest trading bloc taking 40 per cent of our exports. This involves more than simply getting goods there. As Douglas Alexander said in the same article: “…the single market is not just about “free trade” as the Eurosceptics misleadingly imply. It’s about far more than that: removing barriers behind the borders – and that requires common rules with a commission and court to enforce them. And where we have shared goals – from tackling climate change to cross-border crime and human trafficking – in an era of billion-person countries and trillion-pound economies – we cannot afford to give up on ways that help amplify our voice and protect our interests.”

It beggars belief that the Prime Minister is playing party politics with such an important matter. The real problem is that Cameron has not really “detoxified” the Tory brand. He hasn’t had the courage to do what Neil Kinnock achieved for the Labour Party in the 1980s. The British Conservative Party now has more extremists than before the 2010 general election.

Cameron seems to think appeasing the Eurosceptics will get him off the hook. Such misplaced judgment defies all historical precedents. Cameron has isolated the UK by pulling out of the European People’s Party, the centre-right group which also happens to be the largest political group in the European Parliament. Having annoyed his natural allies, Cameron now thinks he can renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU. Total and utter pie in the sky for reasons explained in some detail in other posts on this blog, and rather pleasingly put forward by Andrew Neill on the BBC Sunday Politics programme.