Questions for Labour Leave’s Director of Strategy, Nigel Griffiths

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Image courtesy of Labour Leave

Whilst much of the debate on the European Union is centred on the internal squabbles in the Conservative party, euroscepticism is not only a Tory issue. The Labour party has adopted a lukewarm pro-EU stance under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and some of his MPs have come out in favour of Brexit. The points which those on the left raise in opposition to the EU are often different to those of the right in many cases, focussing more on workers’ rights and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Nigel Griffiths served as a Labour party Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South from 1987 until 2010. Whilst in Parliament, he served as the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry and later as Deputy Leader of the House of Commons. The former flatmate of Gordon Brown is currently serving as the Director of Strategy for Labour Leave, a campaign group pushing for a British exit from the European Union.

David Cameron has said that a British exit from the European Union would be “a risk at a time of uncertainty, leap in the dark”. Is he right?

No – it is the opposite: senior economic commentators believe the euro is in real danger and will collapse as Greece and others drop out.  In fact, in spite of the UK not being in the Euro, our universities were forced to accept a £2 billion cut in EU Horizon science funding as a contribution to the Euro bailout.  Nissan see a bright future in or out and have just announced a £250m investment in the North East come what may, and the CEO of the world’s largest car maker Toyota, Aido Toyoda has said “We will continue to make cars in the East Midlands if Britain were to leave the EU.”

The Labour party has positioned themselves as pro-EU in the run up to the election but, of course, historically this has not always been the case. Faced with a divided party, David Cameron has been careful to allow campaign ministers to support either side. What has the debate been like within the Labour party?

There has been a very vigorous debate, with many part members believing that if our party is to reconnect with the electorate, they must listen to the millions of voters who want to leave the EU.

In a statement in the House of Commons towards the end of February, Jeremy Corbyn stated that “The Labour party and the trade union movement are overwhelmingly for staying in because we believe that the European Union has brought investment, jobs and protection for workers….are convinced a vote to remain is in the best interests of the people.” Will leaving have a negative impact on workers?

The opposite. As the Trade Union leader and President of the Bakers Union Ian Hodson has said: “Anyone who thinks the EU is protecting UK workers in 2016 is living in the past.” Zero hours contracts are being promoted under EU Flexible Labour Market rules.  Collective bargaining has been attacked and weakened in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Romania as an EU bailout condition. The ‘Viking-Line’ case in the ECJ threatens to impose lower wages than the UK minimum wage – allowing companies using an HQ address of convenience in Poland or Romania to impose the overseas minimum wage on their UK workers. The EU’s free movement of labour rules are exploiting workers, allowing unscrupulous employers to import cheap labour and force down UK wage rates.

What are your thoughts on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and has it made an impact on your opinion on the European Union?

Freedom of Information requests show Brussels is concluding secret negotiations with the USA to remove restraints on US & EU companies.  These will be legally binding on the UK – but we are shut out of the negotiations. TTIP can block a Labour government taking back control of privatised NHS and rail facilities. The EU/USA Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership – TTIP toughens the EU’s ability to fine governments that remove hospital services, railways and other contracts from private companies.

Public services, especially the NHS, are in the firing line [because of TTIP]. One of the main aims of TTIP is to open up Europe’s public health, education and water services to US companies. This could essentially mean the privatisation of the NHS. TTIP seeks to bring EU standards on food safety and the environment closer to those of the US. But US regulations are much less strict with far laxer restrictions on the use of pesticides and other toxic products.  The EU currently bans 1,200 substances from use in cosmetics while the US bans just 12. The US allows growth hormones in its beef which are restricted in Europe due to links to cancer. TTIP can be used to remove the tough new banking regulations, effectively handing powers back to the bankers. TTIP is pressing for laxer data privacy laws and a restriction of public access to pharmaceutical companies’ clinical trials. TTIP will cause unemployment as jobs switch to the US, where labour standards and trade union rights are lower. The US bilateral trade agreement with Mexico and Canada caused the loss of one million jobs over 12 years. TTIP’s biggest threat to society is its inherent assault on democracy. Its Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), allow companies to sue governments if their policies cause a loss of profits. In effect it means unelected transnational corporations can dictate the policies of democratically elected governments.

There have been numerous reports about the effect leaving the EU will have on British businesses. The chief of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, has consistently warned that Britain and Europe as a whole will be worse off in the event of a British exit. What do you think the effect will be? 

I very much agree with the report the Bank of England’s report, which says the free movement of Labour rules have driven down wages here by 2%. I believe the impact of the Common Agricultural Policy in increasing food prices in the UK will be reversed on leaving.  For our fishing communities, we need only look to Norway, where the fishing fleet as expanded its economic contribution by 42.5% in the past decade, or Iceland whose territorial waters are one-ninth of the size of the UK’s, and whose fishing catch now exceeds the UK’s, thanks to Brussels.

The referendum will be taking place on the 23rd June. Term finishes on the 24th. Wherever you will be, make sure you are registered to vote. To register, visit: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.