In response to this article, in which #LEXIT: the Left Leave Campaign chair ROBERT GRIFFITHS attempts to counters key arguments for EU membership
Myth 1. The EU has brought peace in Europe for 50 years or more.
The Lexit argument is that peace has been maintained by anti-war feeling in the West and the Soviet policy of “peaceful co-existence”. Peace therefore cannot be attributed to the European Union.
The genesis of the EU can be found in the Schuman declaration. Robert Schuman was the post-war French Foreign Minister. His statement of 9th May 1950 outlines the primary objectives of what we now know as the European Union. This is what he said about obtaining peace in Europe.
“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.”
He then detailed one of the key “creative efforts” that could bring about peace within a war torn and battered continent.
"The pooling of coal and steel production... will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims."
The idea in itself is simple. We work together towards reconstruction and towards a stable situation that will encourage production and trade.. We trade with one another, because we are far less likely to try to destroy those nations we want to sell our products to.
Our final quote from the Schuman declaration is this:
"Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity."
Large objectives are hardly ever achieved by a single plan. Peace in Europe can be attributed to a number of different factors; the formation of the United Nations and NATO have also been key to ensuring peace in Europe. No doubt so has an anti-war feeling in the West and a desire to cooperate from Russia, especially after the dismantling of the Eastern Bloc in the 1980’s. However, the impact of the European Union in establishing cooperation between nations, to a point where trade and economic growth can be attained and maintained cannot be dismissed.
The undeniable fact is that no two EU Member States has ever gone to war with each other. It also cannot be denied that wars have happened. The Individual Nation States that are the members of the EU have used their autonomy in determining their own foreign policy to go to war just as the UK did with Iraq, however, this has never been a decision taken at EU level.
The United Kingdom is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a member of NATO and a member of the European Union. We could attribute all these factors to having ensured peace for our nation in the last 60 years. Economic prosperity and stability cannot be achieved without peace between nations, economic cooperation between nations can ensure that peace. This was the key ethos of Robert Schuman’s speech. The EU cannot be sidelined as a contributing factor to the maintenance of peace within Europe.
Myth 2. Many problems are international and so require a coordinated EU approach.
The Lexit argument is that international problems are larger than the EU. The UK is already a member of a number of international initiatives (WHO, WTO, Unesco, ILO etc) so we don’t need to be involved in EU initiatives. Furthermore, they see the EU as representing only large corporations and therefore undermining the efforts of the above mentioned international agencies. Finally, as the UK is the 5th largest economy of the world, we will always have influence.
To take the last comment first. Since the latest round of polls showing an advantage for Leave the pound has fallen, and £77 billion of investment has already left the country. Nobody can guarantee that our economy will remain the 5th largest whether we remain or leave. However, even the leave campaign has admitted that there will be an economic shock and a period of economic uncertainty will follow if we leave the EU Therefore the argument that our standing in the world’s economy will remain the same cannot be guaranteed.
It is true that international problems are larger than the EU. However, the EU as a collective provides over 50% of all global development aid, the EU is in fact, the world's leading donor in this area.
After leaving the EU would the UK commit to a continuing its current level of funding? Will the EU have to reduce this kind of funding if the UK pulls out? How would this damage worldwide development projects in the future? Who will ultimately suffer from this? What would be consequences of this? Maybe questions to ask yourself before casting your vote.
As to environmental initiatives, again, a global concern, but basic geography would lead one to assume that dealing with issues such as air and sea pollution would require cooperation with our immediate neighbours. Let’s look at the UK fishing fleet. Rather than trying to destroy our fish stocks, the limits put on the fishing industry have been put in place for reasons of ensuring that certain species do not become extinct from over fishing. This is a long term approach to try to address mistakes made in the past. The majority of our own problems stem in fact from the Cod War that took place between ourselves and Iceland prior to our EU membership.
As to further EU environmental initiatives, the UK is signed up to the EU Energy Union, with framework policies running to 2020, 2030 and 2050. The final aim is to ensure EU energy independence - thus removing our need to rely on countries outside the EU for our energy supplies. This will be achieved by commitments to the development of renewable energy.
The UK is certainly not forced into joining these initiatives. Please see below a link to a press release from 6th June 2016 regarding closer cooperation between the North Sea countries on the use of wind power. This initiative looks into the use of space used in the North Sea for the wind turbines, better connectivity for supply etc. Every North Sea Member State, and Norway - a non-Member State are involved. The UK isn’t. Obviously not the EU keeping us out. Definitely a display of the current government’s non-commitment to renewable energy.
Myth 3: If Britain votes to leave the EU, it would be a victory for the political right.
The Lexit argument is that our government and the CBI which both support Remain are only interested in big business and saving the financial services sector. If we leave the current government will fall and the UK can promote polices that would favour investment in people not business.
It is true that the mainstream political right does indeed protect the interests of big business. They are also keen to protect the City of London. Unfortunately we have a Conservative government which was democratically elected and these are their priorities. Secondly, since the decline of our manufacturing industries caused by Thatcherite policies our economy is heavily reliant on the City of London for creating money to drive the economy and to attract investment. This investment is likely to fall if we leave the EU and the country has already seen £77 billion in investment leave the country as a result of polls showing a lead for leave.
A vote for withdrawal may well bring down Cameron and Osborne, but this is not a general election, and the referendum is not about the current government, it is about our continued membership of the European Union, the implications thereof, and what would be lost or gained as a result of leaving. or staying.
We could indeed promote policies at home and abroad that would put people first. However, to do that we would need to put the appropriate government in place. There is no guarantee that a leave vote will trigger a General Election. Even if it does there is no guarantee that we would end up with a government that has the political will to do this. There is also no guarantee that after leaving the EU we would even have an economy capable of guaranteeing policies favouring investment in people and continued influence on the world stage.
We could end up with a Labour government after a leave vote with a sufficient majority to protect our rights as workers and citizens without the protection of EU law, but for how long? If voted out we could be back to Tory policies again in 5 years.
After a leave vote we could also just as easily inherit a government composed of Michael Gove, Ian Duncan Smith and Boris Johnson. Unfettered and with no protection from EU law, this troika could mean the complete loss of many of the rights as workers and even as human beings that we currently take for granted.
Myth 4. The EU can be reformed to serve the interests of the people:
The Lexit argument is that the powers of the EU can only be changed by Treaty changes which have to be unanimously agreed on in the Council of Ministers. They claim that the Treaties contain pro-austerity policies which limit government investment in companies, they claim that alleviating these limitations would lead to greater economic investment in key domestic markets.
After an extensive search online, we cannot find a specific Treaty Article which imposes austerity measures on member states within the EU. It is assumed that Lexit are referring to this.
The EU Treaty has stipulated what they consider to be an “excessive budget deficit”. Trading between member states does indeed mean greater independency upon each other’s economies. What do we have to gain if our trading partners have economic difficulties? How can we sell to a country with no money, or where high unemployment leads to a reduction in demand? In any case, why would we want to be free to run up a budget deficit? surely this is counter productive?
Furthermore, the Treaty does contain specific provisions for tackling poverty and social exclusion within the EU. According to Article 9, “In defining and implementing its policies and activities, the Union shall take into account requirements linked to the promotion of a high level of employment, the guarantee of adequate social protection, the fight against social exclusion, and a high level of education, training and protection of human health.” Moreover, Article 3 clearly stipulates that the Union should “combat social exclusion and discrimination, and shall promote social justice and protection.”
Furthermore, Article 208 TFEU stipulates the following:
“The Union shall take account of the objectives of development cooperation in the policies that it implements which are likely to affect developing countries.”
All very well for citizens outside the EU - what about our own citizens?
This site does admit that there is “no EU plan on how to shield poor citizens in the EU from the consequences of austerity measures, nor any EU policy on protecting social sectors in Europe.”
However, since identifying this problem initiatives have been put in place to try to alleviate the impact on EU citizens.
For example, youth employment, including Erasmus+ which extends learning opportunities for EU students to include apprenticeships, which can be taken in any EU member state.
For an indication on how this has been attributed in the UK - see here.
Another example on how this has helped specific areas in the UK.
It could be said that this our money and that the UK could fund this anyway. However, see our comments under myth 3 - we would need a government in place with the political will to do this.
To move on, what about Lexit’s comments on State Aid?
State Aid is part of the body of EU law relating to competition. EU competition law is run with the primary objective of serving EU consumers. By ensuring a market where companies compete with one another the consumer is guaranteed lower prices and better products.
The EU, in conjunction with the National Competition Authorities based in each Member State deal with competition law on a variety of levels. For example, responsibilities of dominant undertakings, investigating and dismantling cartels and cartel activity, monitoring mergers to alleviate barriers to entry for smaller companies and start ups and finally they monitor state aid.
Lexit is correct, State Aid is illegal under EU competition law. The rationale is that providing government funding to companies gives them an unfair competitive advantage on the market. They are not run efficiently as they have no motivation to ensure improved products. State aid also favours richer countries on the global market as they can afford to fund failing companies.
However, State Aid is allowed under certain circumstances. For example, The Royal Bank of Scotland received state aid from the UK government. Why did the EU allow this? Because the alternative would have meant small investors (the small citizens such as you and I) losing their life savings, and maybe going to a cashpoint machine and not being able to withdraw money from their account. The result, mass panic and a possible domino effect on the rest of the financial services sector. A real disaster for the United Kingdom, therefore it was allowed under EU law.
As a little aside, the financial services sector was investigated by the EU. A cartel was uncovered regarding the fixing of the Inter Bank Lending Rate in three currencies (Libor, Eurbior and Yen). The fine imposed by the EU in 2013 on the banks for Euribor and Yen was €1.71 billion. This money went directly into the EU budget and came off the EU taxpayer’s bill for funding the EU.
State Aid can also be allowed for what is considered to be a “service of general economic interest” “SGEI” - for example, a privately owned bus company finds it inefficient to run a bus route to a very isolated area, this can be funded by a government in order to ensure that transport in this area is assured.
TATA steel has been in the news recently, the criticism being that the government cannot save the industry with state aid as it is forbidden by the EU. First of all, we have a conservative government which would be against state aid by default. Secondly, state aid can be given to steel industries if it encourages efficiency. Some EU Member States have done this, mainly through reducing energy prices by encouraging switches to renewable energy. Our government just does not have the political will to do this. It doesn’t seem to like renewable energy anyway. The EU is also desperate to apply anti-dumping measures on China to prevent them from dumping cheap steal on the EU market. Again this has been held up by our own government.
The case for Anti-dumping measures is very high. Personally, I would not want to buy Chinese steel as their workers are exploited and do not enjoy the same levels of social protection and human rights laws as we do. If we can be independent in our supply within the EU, then we can exert influence on places such as China. We do not want cheap products at any price. Ensure protection to your workers and maybe we will consider buying from you. Ensure the use of renewable energy policies in your production and maybe we will buy from you.
Can the UK do this from outside the EU? Another question to ask yourself before voting.
Finally, can the EU be reformed? with the correct Member State governments, certainly. There has to be a political will to do that. This only happens if you, the citizens, vote for governments who wish to do this. Ultimately the EU is the sum of its parts, it is an assemblage of independent Nation States.
Myth 5. Scotland and Wales benefit from EU funds and British withdrawal would lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom.
The Lexit argument is that the money supplied is insignificant compared to what comes from central government, and that Scotland cannot afford to leave the United Kingdom. Free from EU rules on public procurement local government can award larger contracts to local suppliers.
Why only British withdrawal? It is the United Kingdom that is a member of the EU, not Great Britain. Why does Lexit not want to touch on the thorny issue of Northern Ireland? Could we please not forget the Labout MP that put the Good Friday Agreement in motion despite being extremely ill at the time. It has been put forward that leaving the EU could lead to the demise of the Good Friday Agreement, this would be an insult to Mo Mowlam’s memory.
To return to the original argument, it is not just Wales and Scotland that receive EU funding. EU funding is available to the whole of the United Kingdom. Scotland and Wales received most of the funding during the 1980’s as these areas were considered by the rest of the EU as needing regeneration. This was during the Thatcher era - a Conservative government. We now have another Conservative government that has little interest in regeneration projects that fall outside London and Home Counties and which has actively favoured their own constituencies with government funding.
This has also been doing the rounds on Facebook - it shows how much Charities could suffer from a withdrawal from the EU - and also demonstrates how much the poor and vulnerable are dependent upon charities, which are in turn dependent upon EU funding:
“Wave goodbye to local authority and charity services you thought the government pays for, if you vote to Leave the EU. The government does not and will not pay for services you currently take for granted and you probably think are paid for by the government - the government cut funding in 2010 and repeatedly since then, forcing councils, schools and lots of other organisations to become charities in order to compete for funding from the lottery and from the major EU funding streams. I know because I write the funding applications! Goodbye services for children, disabled people, hospitals, the elderly, community transport, adult education, libraries, theatres and parks all paid for by the ESF. Goodbye town centre rejuvenation projects, small businesses, inland waterways and transport all paid for by the ERDF. And hello massive hikes in council tax and hello fracking companies and nuclear power stations on your doorstep, massive corporate building projects in the countryside and privatisation of schools as your council makes desperate attempts to make up the shortfall.
Even the National Institute of Statistics has openly published a statement to say that the Leave campaign are lying about the figures they're using. Please wake up to the social impact of leaving the EU and vote with your conscience not your pride.”
As a last interjection on ESF funding, the EU requires match funding before they will provide money for projects. Every EU member state’s government puts this up themselves. It makes sense after all - it is double your money surely? However, the UK government provides no match funding. Charities, start ups, cultural projects from the UK have to secure match funding from the private sector or use national lottery money.
Scotland and Wales may leave the UK. This is a real concern. Scotland only recently had their own referendum on continued membership of the UK - the vote was extremely close and it has shown huge divisions between in particular England and Scotland on their visions for the future. Funnily enough, Lexit is using the same arguments for Scotland to remain in the UK as Remain is using for the UK remaining in the EU. Scotland has no desire to be an independent nation and a member of the EU sitting next door to a country that is not an EU member state. This could become particularly tricky if Scotland adopts the Euro. Whatever Scotland decides to do should there be a vote for leave, this will seriously damage any good will, such as it is, within the Union as a whole. Different sections seem to want different things for their future and this is hardly a healthy situation on which to move forward as a nation.
Finally, public procurement rules are in place to ensure transparency, decrease the risk of anti-competitive practices and prevent corruption. Removing public procurement rules will not necessarily result in money being diverted into projects for the greater good. It may well lead to money being diverted for the pet projects of corrupt politicians only intent on lining their own pockets, and to the detriment of struggling start ups and small businesses.
Myth 6: Democracy and Human Rights will be threatened if Britain leaves the EU.
Lexit seems to run out of steam here. Again, the Member State quoted is wrong, it is the United Kingdom which is a member, not Great Britain. Their argument is that there is Tory hostility towards the ECHR. The ECHR has nothing to do with the EU. They also say that we need to defend Human Rights whether within the EU or not.
I think there is full agreement here. Human Rights should be defended no matter what. The ECHR is indeed separate from the EU. However, since enlargement of the EU in 2004, adherence to the ECHR has become a condition of membership, it would be extremely difficult to leave the ECHR whilst a member of the EU. Something Lexit does not seems to want to touch on.
It is also true that the Tories wish to scrap the Human Rights Act 1998. This it can do whilst remaining in the EU, it is our own law, put in place by the last Labour government, and which incorporates the ECHR into UK law rather than having to rely on common law. However, even with the HR Act 1998 scrapped we would still have the ECHR to fall back on - in fact the EU does not stop us adopting our own Bill of Rights if we so wish, however, it would have to be in line with the ECHR.
Lexit has completely ignored the European Charter on Fundamental Rights.
The provisions of the Charter are addressed to:
• the institutions and bodies of the EU with due regard for the principle of subsidiarity; and
• the national authorities only when they are implementing EU law.
The Charter ensures that Member States apply the ethos of the EU on the principles of equality of treatment and subsidiarity whenever it enacts EU law. This ethos is also applied in all implementing regulations used by the EU institutions.
Lexit is also forgetting the protection provided by EU law to the Directives contained within the social chapter. These directives are far reaching and deal with equality in the workplace and access to training and education. They forbid discrimination on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation, religion and race. They also contain rights to maternity pay, maternity leave, minimum paid vacation, health and safety regulations and also make sexual harassment in the workplace illegal.
It cannot be said that the EU is against Human Rights. The principal of equality was enshrined in the original Treaty of Rome and it has been one of the cornerstones of the EU throughout its history. Lexit simply cannot imply that our human rights are better protected once outside the EU.
Myth 7: There is no realistic alternative of EU membership.
The Lexit argument is that we already have bilateral agreements in place, and that we can join the European Free Trade Agreement and via that the European Economic Area. We can also trade freely with BRICS and with the 53 Commonwealth nations.
From the above, it would appear that Lexit wish for the UK to have a Swiss or Norwegian style agreement with the EU. Switzerland is a member of EFTA. Norway is a member of EFTA and the EEA. Both countries pay into the EU budget, both countries have free movement and they are both members of Schengen - so they have no border control. Nether country has MEPs representing their nations in the European Parliament, nor do they attend meetings of the Council of Ministers. They do have to adhere to the rules regarding trade and their products and packaging have to be in line with EU rules. They are also part of the Social Chapter, and they have to comply with these rules as well. They have no say in how these rules are developed.
Why is this a better deal than the one we have now? How does this make our situation more democratic?
As to BRICS, we already trade with them bilaterally. Germany trades with them quite extensively on a bilateral basis. As to the Commonwealth - do they want to trade with us? What are they going to buy? Do they have the means to purchase? Consider this video when thinking about the 'Swiss' model, a reply to Brexit the Movie.
Furthermore, surely again, simple geography implies that trading favourably with your neighbours is more pragmatic, especially when those neighbouring countries are wealthy. Why would poorer countries be prepared to pay extra for our goods so that they can be transported, particularly when they will be subject to WTO trading tariffs?
We invite an open response from the #Lexit #VoteLeave campaign to our questions and ask them to seriously consider the implications of what they are campaigning for.