by Max Clements
Recently the European Union has been maligned both from the right, by the conventional Eurosceptic, and by the left – in the wake of the imposition of austerity measures on Greece – who increasingly view the European Union as an advocate of greater deregulation and privatisation.
Leaving the EU would be economically absurd and pose a legitimate threat to our jobs, trade and industry. Recent studies have estimated that between 4.2 million and 4.5 million jobs in the UK are dependent on exports to EU countries.
I am not suggesting that Brexit would lead to all these jobs being lost; the UK would obviously still trade with EU countries even if it voted to leave. However, if a free trade agreement is not secured, the increase in the cost of trade with EU countries is estimated to be £11 billion.
In terms of UK trade, EU membership is estimated to have boosted British goods trade with other members states by 55%. It is no coincidence that around 80% of firms surveyed by the CBI and YouGov in 2013 expressed a negative response to the prospect of Britain leaving the EU.
Just last week, leading UK business bosses, including those of BT, Marks and Spencer and Vodafone, signed a letter published in The Times arguing that Brexit would deter investment in the UK.
Continued EU membership is also vital in terms of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from EU countries.
The UK is the single largest recipient of FDI in the EU and part of this country’s appeal is as an export platform to the rest of the EU. If the UK were no longer part of the trading bloc, this position as the leading European beneficiary of FDI would come under significant threat.
One of the key pillars of the Eurosceptic argument is that even after leaving the EU, the UK will be able negotiate a Norwegian-style agreement to remain part of the European Economic Area and thereby maintain access to the single market, tariff free, whilst freeing itself from the political confines of Brussels.
The reality is that such an agreement fails to address the main political issues that Britain’s right are concerned with, namely immigration and the membership fee.
If the UK wanted to maintain full access rights to the single market it must still adopt EU regulations and make a sizeable contribution towards the EU budget. It would be unable to get around EU treaty rights guaranteeing the freedom of the movement of labour.
The UK would be forced to accept the policies and standards of the EU without having any influence over them. This outcome is hardly beneficial to the economic interests of the UK.
Progressive politics is also in the very fibre of the European Union. Despite the recent events in Greece and the EU’s imposition of austerity measures against the will of the Greek people, I firmly believe that the EU is an arena in which progressive politics can be upheld in the future.
In many cases it is the EU that can, and does, act as the preserver of integral freedoms in the face of the Cameron government’s agenda of privatisation, damaging bilateral trade deals and the erosion of worker rights.
One prominent example of this is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a quite frankly scary bilateral trade deal that aims to harmonise US and EU markets, potentially paving the way for the privatisation of UK public services such as the NHS, transport and education.
Our government is among the most fervent advocates of TTIP. It is our government that seems the most willing to hand over British sovereignty to multinational corporations, having signed bilateral trade deals that include investor state dispute mechanisms which allow companies to sue governments for risking their ‘future profits’.
If we leave the EU, what is to stop the current government from negotiating such damaging trade deals based on TTIP? The answer: nothing.
The European Union has also taken a leading and progressive stance on worker rights. Most of the rights that we depend on are derived from Europe.
The EU’s working time directive (1993) enshrines the right of all workers to twenty days’ paid holiday, EU laws oblige firms to inform and consult workers when they are planning redundancies, and the EU Parental Leave Directive entitles male and female workers to at least four months’ leave upon the birth or adoption of a child.
Many of the rights that we take for granted today we owe to the European Union. In the event of Brexit, given this current government’s eagerness to abolish the Human Rights Act and to implement the draconian Trade Union Bill, it is reasonable to assume that worker rights would be infringed upon if we lost the safeguard of the EU.
For decades, Brexit was the evangelistic mission of the British right, preached by those who were ideologically opposed to any infringement upon national sovereignty, regardless of the economic benefits of EU membership.
In recent years, however, criticism of the EU has become more mainstream, as our relations with Europe have been strained over issues such as immigration and fears of being drawn into an ‘ever closer union’ and surrendering more legislative powers to Brussels.
Brexit is not only economically absurd but also politically unsound, especially in a time requiring international political cooperation in the wake of the refugee crisis that is affecting the whole of Europe.
To exit the EU now would be myopic in the globalised world that we live in today. But more fundamentally, it is our EU membership that protects us from pursuing an even more regressive national agenda.