There are a million more women than men eligible to vote in the upcoming EU referendum. At the Torfaen Labour Women's AGM on Saturday we discussed the ways an out vote would impact on women's lives. Here is my call out to all those women heading to the ballot box on June 23rd: Vote REMAIN.
Vote REMAIN for the Economy
Almost all the experts agree that coming out of the EU is going to mean an initial dip for the economy - what they argue about is how bad it will be and how long it will last. Although we don't need a free trade agreement with the EU to do business with it, the 'out' campaign has argued we will be able to negotiate a good deal. They point to Switzerland and Norway, countries which have access to the single market without being a member of the EU. What they don't point out is that, in return, their borders are open to EU citizens in line with the single market's commitment to free movement.
To suggest that the EU will be giving us favourable terms is, I think, at best naively optimistic and, at worst, an outright lie. Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, has just hit the final nail in the coffin of any hopes of continued access to the single market following a leave vote:
As about half of all our overseas trade is with the EU, this would be a big blow. To make up the shortfall we would need to secure free trade agreements with other countries, and convince foreign investors that Britain is still good value for their money. As many come to us for easy access to the single market - particularly in the important auto and financial industries - this could be a very tough ask.
Vote REMAIN for Wales
Much is made of the 'membership fee' we pay to the EU - £18.8 bn vs the £9.4 bn we get back in subsides, rebates, etc. By voting leave, so the argument goes, billions of pounds a year will be freed up for the government to spend on its priorities. (Whether or not those will be the priorities you and I have is a different matter.) What this argument ignores is the huge amount of money in the UK economy which depends upon EU membership.
Around 1 in 10 UK jobs is associated with EU trade or funding, and many of those could be at risk if we leave. In Wales 100,000 jobs are linked just to exports to the EU - exports which made up £5 bn worth of goods last year, or 41% of the value of all exported goods from Wales. Similarly, the EU pumps funding into Welsh infrastructure and other projects which, to put it bluntly, I can't see any Westminster government providing.
Job insecurity and lack of investment would also mean a weaker pound, pushing up the cost of living. Much of our imported foods would face price hikes and British farmers, currently heavily subsidised by the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy), would struggle - increasing the price of food and basic commodities. With the treasury predicting households will be around £80 a week worse off, the 'tampon tax' would be the least of our worries. (More on the history of, and less drastic solutions to that HERE.)
Vote REMAIN for Workers' Rights
People talk about EU 'red tape' costing jobs, but that red tape is largely the employee rights we have all come to take for granted. EU directives obligate all member countries to provide workers with minimum rights relating to -
☆ Health and safety at work: general rights and obligations, workplaces, work equipment, specific risks and vulnerable workers.
☆ Equal opportunities for women and men: this includes equal pay for equal work, and parental leave. On average OECD EU countries give parents a total of 68 weeks paid leave, compared to 32 weeks in OECD countries outside the EU.
☆ Protection against discrimination based on sex, race, religion, age, disability and sexual orientation.
☆ Labour law: this covers things like a limit to working hours, paid holidays and breaks, protections for agency workers, and rights for part-time workers.
Without this obligation from the EU, upholding any and all of these rights would come down to the government of the day. (I would take a long, hard look at the government of today...) As for the often made assertion that leaving the EU would stop immigrants from pushing down wages, it's not the employees fault for being underpaid. It's the employers for underpaying. We have just established that EU law doesn't allow it - it is down to the UK to enforce it.
Vote REMAIN for an end to Scaremongering
The bulk of the debate around the EU referendum seems to have been about immigration, and how the UK would be better off without it. Frankly, I disagree. Even if you don't, the figures show the impact leaving the EU would have on immigration is not quite what some make out:
Altogether, some 3 million EU immigrants live in the UK (i.e. 4.6% of the UK population), while 1.2 million Brits live in another EU country. Last year, around 270,000 people came to the UK from other EU countries - 41% had a job to go to, and another 32% were looking for work. Because, in truth, the majority of EU immigrants are in work and paying taxes. In England alone, 10% of doctors and 4% of nurses working in the NHS are from the EU.
Meanwhile, c. 280,000 non-EU citizens immigrated to the UK in the same period. If we left the EU this figure is not likely to fall - and may well increase - and net migration (the difference between the numbers coming and the numbers leaving) will go up as British expats, including the 500,000 or so pensioners living in Spain, return to the UK, if only while reapplying for visas. In times of trouble it is always tempting to blame 'the other' for all our ills, and immigrants have become an acceptable scapegoat. They take our jobs even as they come to 'scrounge' benefits, all while living a life of crime and having multiple children in NHS hospitals, even as they send money home for their families and house share on a rota with thirty other people...
This blame game is not a new phenomena, of course, but that doesn't make it any less depressing!
What is the EU?
The EU began life as the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community), founded in 1951 with the aim of promoting peace and providing a common market for coal and steel between its member states: Belgium, [West] Germany, France, Italy, Luxumbourg, and the Netherlands. The ECSC was joined by two similar organisations in 1957, the EAEC (European Atomic Energy Community) and the EEC (European Economic Community). It was the latter which largely took over the activities of the others from 1967 onwards.
The UK first attempted to join the EEC in 1961, and was eventually accepted in 1973. In 1993 the Maastricht Treaty created the European Union from the framework of the EEC, which today is made up of 28 countries, covering most of the continent.
What does the EU do?
In business speak, the EU is all about 'economies of scale' - by pooling resources and coming together, the EU can speak with a strong voice on the world stage and negotiate better deals for its members. Internally, members are given access to a 'single market' throughout the union, allowing free movement of goods, services, money and people. In exchange, members must abide by EU legislation.
This can come in three different formats:
☆ Regulation: is binding without any further legislative action.
☆ Directive: needs to be adopted into national law to become effective.
☆ Decision: is binding, but only on small groups or a single state.
There are also recommendations and opinions, but they have no binding force.
How they impact on UK law is well explained in this linked article from Full Fact. Below is a flowchart detailing the procedure for passing EU legislation: