LETTER: Mansfield MP Alan Meale tackles EU 'myths'

Sir Alan Meale, Labour MP for Mansfield.
Sir Alan Meale, Labour MP for Mansfield.

Mansfield MP, Sir Alan Meale, Labour, has written in to offer his thoughts on the coming 'in/out' referendum and addresses the prevailing 'myths' and assumptions.

Dear Constituent,

When I was growing up in a mining village, my school mates and I believed that friends who didn’t go to our school but instead to another nearby comprehensive were somehow inferior.

That competitive spirit. Remember it – sports between schools, support for football clubs - Mansfield Town, Nottingham Forest, Manchester United etc. As relevant, the tribal centres in which we lived. Woodhouse, Shirebrook, Sutton, Ollerton or Warsop where we all stood behind the banner we were meant to, the general belief prevailing that somehow we were superior, or at least better, than those who were merely visitors to our patch.

Well let me admit it, I’ve been guilty. I am still unashamedly a supporter of the Stags and look for their result before any other. I don’t like County and hope Chesterfield lose every week. Yet like most people in Mansfield I’m not local, I’ve only lived here most of my life. A strange and confusing fact isn’t it that some people who are from a similar mix as mine, or were born in a place but then spent many years away from it, or fully adopt their new community, sometimes go on and on about people they see as interlopers, or whom they accuse of being the curse of their area and the nation’s economic problems.

We’ve all heard their reasoning over the years “They’ve come from abroad and taken all the best jobs” – “claim enormous amounts of benefits – can’t speak the language”, “have strange religious beliefs”, and “live the life of Reilly” such thinking as this, totally ignoring the contribution these citizens make to our social and community life. Anyone having any doubts about this should simply examine the numbers of doctors, pharmacists and self-employed in the area who have come from elsewhere, India, Pakistan, Greece, China, etc. At the moment it’s the turn of the Polish to take the heat.

The charges this time include that they are willing to work for next to nothing and in doing so “are keeping locals out of employment”. Such reasoning again neatly sidestepping the fact that the problem isn’t with this particular group of people, but with a Government which allows such employment practices to prevail and employers who operate companies that exploit their workforces in such disgraceful ways. Neither do they recognise that local companies like Sports Direct decided to come to this area only when they were convinced that they could operate with zero hours contracts. The complainers’ logic: that it's not the company nor Government but the workforce to blame - miles away from reality.

My reasons for outlining these illogical concepts is because they are being widely aired in the debate over the Government’s EU Referendum on whether Britain should choose to remain part of it or not. I have therefore decided to set out my own understanding of the issues involved, in the process trying to avoid such innuendo which I believe shows little regard to the main issues involved, ie: the economic and social governance of the European area, and the UK’s role within it.

Here are some of the myths being argued at the present time:

- “Most of our Laws come from Brussels.”

The House of Commons estimates that just 13% of British Laws have anything to do with the EU, even then this figure includes just a passing reference or a definition.

- “European Laws are made by Bureaucrats.”

Untrue – it’s the European Parliament, Council of Europe - Ministers (Government Ministers from member states) and home nations that approve decisions.

- “Norway enjoys all the EU benefits despite not being a member”

Untrue – the Norwegian arrangements with the EU mean they must pay into it and also abide by its trade regulations, without being able to influence it. The country’s Prime Minister recently stated she wanted Norway to join.

- “We could trade with the world including countries in Europe without being a member”

Yes, but to a much lesser degree and markets particularly third world ones have already entered into trade relationships elsewhere and wouldn’t likely see any benefits in trading with us unless it was because of very cheap prices or rates.

- “All EU migrants are a drain on the UK economy”

A very inaccurate view. For a start most of the migrant community in the UK is from outside the EU, mainly from the ex-British Empire and Commonwealth Nations. Those that aren’t have usually legally entered the UK through marriage, family or employment, and if they are here unofficially if/when they are caught, they are returned to their home country. On EU migrants in the UK, the reality is that they make a positive financial contribution to our economy, whatsmore other European nations play their part in return. With at least 2.8 million Brits currently residing and working in EU member nations.

- “The EU has done nothing for us”.

Many ordinary people enjoy rights thanks to the EU. It has ensured safe working hours, introduced higher levels of annual leave and extended parental leave. Legal principals of equal pay for equal work. Cheaper air travel, free or cheap medical care abroad, cheap mobile phone charges – better food labelling. Better Health and Safety at work rules.

- “Our most important markets are China and the US not the EU”

The EU is the world’s largest single market. Half of Britain’s exports go there – accounting for some 3.5 million jobs. The UK sells more to the Netherlands alone than to the whole of China. The EU membership rules make it easier to trade both in the USA and Asian markets.

- “The European Court of Human rights forces its will on Britain”

The European Court has nothing to do with the EU. It’s part of the Council of Europe. A separate organisation set up by Britain after the Second World War. It’s the International Court of Appeal for European Countries and deals successfully with matters such as those on child protection laws, individual personal appeals for personal injury – like the Thalidomide scandal.

- “Britain is different, and EU should stop trying to change it”

All EU member states have their different languages, cultures, histories and laws. No one joins the EU in order to lose their identity in fact the EU motto is “United in Diversity”. Margaret Thatcher herself reiterated this when she said “Being in Europe hadn’t made the French any less French.”

- “Britain’s borders can only be safe if we are out of the EU”

The whole of the EU helps to protect our borders, whether it’s via airports, ports or the Channel Tunnel European Border Forces help to manage our inlets and keep those not qualifying out. Security against illegal activities and the peace of our nation, especially in reference to terrorist activities are constantly in use throughout the EU and also under the watchful eye of Interpol.

- "What has Europe ever done for us?"

EU Laws have ensured food packaging clearly displays nutrition and allergen information;

Tough new Tobacco Laws help discourage smoking particularly on the young and reduce the burden on our NHS;

EU action has made banks safer and more accountable;

Britain benefits from being part of it as almost half of the UK’s trade and foreign investment comes from the EU;

Our membership provides approximately 3.5 million jobs in the UK;

Lots of the rights we enjoy at work come directly from the EU – these include Laws on holiday entitlement, extended maternity and paternity leave. Full and part time workers’ rights. Increased Health and Safety standards;

EU membership makes it quicker, easier and safer to travel – cheap air fares – more routes – compensation schemes. Banning of roaming charges for mobile phones, improved ticketing systems. Reduced healthcare costs;

Consumers’ rights with the EU manufactured goods now have to meet the highest standards. 14 day cooling off periods for any goods or services purchased online. The ending of hidden charges when shopping online, lower fees for using credit or debit cards. Banning of the use of premium rate phone numbers for customer helplines;

Young people can work, study and train across the entire EU through its Erasmus programme which allows them to gain vital skills abroad;

EU membership allows millions of Brits to benefit from free movement every year, at the moment Brits living abroad are estimated at 2.8 million in the EU – All UK citizens being entitled to take up a job, study or retire in any of its 27 member states;

EU laws ban work based discrimination on the grounds of race, sexual orientation, disability, gender or age;

Britain has cleaner air, better beaches, and cleaner bathing waters since joining the EU.

Cleaner rivers, less acid rain and lower sulphur emissions;

Wildlife has also been protected by EU rules on environmental protection;

Finally to add, that amongst the plethora of persons who support retention of EU status for the UK includes the following list of groups/individuals who are calling for Britain to remain in it – 82% of all MPs at Westminster. The CBI, TUC, individual Trades Unions, a wealth of leading figures in the community who have warned against leaving whom include, The Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, most of the Cabinet, Leader of the Opposition - Labour, Liberal Party, Scottish National Party and other smaller party’s in the Commons. The ArchBishop of Canterbury, Richard Branson, Governor of the Bank of England, a host of leading companies, most UK based High Street Banks, together with 600 leading artists, writers and others from the entertainment industry.

They argue that the retention of our membership is linked to over 3 million UK jobs connected with our exports which will be lost if we leave. They also argue that our economy would be hit to the tune of £4,300 pa per household if we left, and put at risk over 200,000 UK businesses which trade in the EU. Further that pulling out would hit our economy and probably lead to around £36 billion cuts in public spending.

My view is I agree with them that, to follow such a path to leave the EU is a gamble we simply cannot afford to take.

Sir Alan Meale MP