Trade Union desk

‘In’ campaign needs to make its voice heard


John O’Farrell argues that the masses have much to lose from Brexit and must find their voice quickly to ensure the UK remains in the EU. 

Praise must go to the Minister for Small Business Anna Soubry MP who last month asked a spokesperson for Brexit to actually name the regulations and ‘red tape’ strangling small businesses and farmers. After several attempts, the best answer the spokesperson could conjure was that his competitors in France and Italy were not following the EU regulations he obeys.

The flaw in this answer is that he could not name any regulation that was damaging his business and could not explain how ‘independence’ from the EU would help him sell more cauliflowers.

Despite the level of bluster and bluff, the polls show that the referendum on 23 June will be a close run thing. All it may take to tip the scales is a terrorist attack closer to home than Paris or Brussels, or an incident involving refugees along the Balkan route. The squabbling ‘leave’ campaign and tremendous egos involved may bicker like seagulls, but they can unite remarkably quickly when it comes to condemning migrants for their supposed transgressions.

The other unifying factor among those who support Brexit is their ability to dismiss every criticism by plugging their ears. That technique has to run out of steam eventually and in any case which of these regulatory nooses would they like to free us from:

•   minimum paid annual leave;

•   additional rights for agency, temporary and part-time workers;

•   current pregnancy and maternity leave rights;

•   parental leave;

•   working time (which includes a maximum of a 48-hour week unless you agree otherwise, and minimum rest breaks each day);

•   equal pay;

•   anti-discrimination rules on race, sex, disability, age and sexual orientation;

•   data protection rights.

Plus, more on TUPE, collective redundancies, works councils, holiday pay, political discrimination, freedom of religious expression and so on. Writing in The Guardian, Will Hutton notes that, regulations fall roughly into two clusters. There are the common standards required to make trade areas operate fairly, and there are workers’ rights, such as those listed.

Then there are the tabloids. Privacy laws and the commercial imperative of giving their readers what they want make Brexit appealing to many of them. According to analysis of ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ voters carried out by YouGov in February the overwhelming majority of readers of tabloids such as the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, The Telegraph and The Sun support Brexit.

The same poll found that readers of Murdoch owned paper The Times are more likely to vote to stay in the EU than readers of the pro-EU Daily Mirror. This is no surprise as Murdoch’s Sky empire has major interests in EU countries. Indeed in 1998 Murdoch called on then Prime Minister Tony Blair to intercede in a dispute over Sky Italia with Sylvio Berlusconi. Which brings us to an often neglected point about the EU and what is has achieved for citizens.

Regardless of whether the UK exits the EU, the people running and funding the ‘leave’ campaign will not be affected at all. Free movement of all EU citizens for work, travel or retirement is really at stake here. These are rights for all that would become a privilege when border patrols are enforced. That freedom of human movement is the trade-off for freedoms for goods, services and capital.

The debate so far has been dominated by Eton accents and Westminster interests. To win this campaign those who wish to remain in the EU need to make their own voices and interests heard, starting now.

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