Andy Richards explores some of the arguments made by leave campaigners
In 1975, I was working at a swiss owned foundry in Neath. Back then, I voted ‘Yes’ to Europe because I believed it would secure the best outcome for me, my family, my work colleagues and for future generations.
A lot of things have changed since then, for sure. This time, the stakes are higher but the questions that each voter asks themselves will, I believe, be exactly the same.
What’s best for me and my family?
What’s best for Wales?
What sort of Country do I want Wales and the UK to be in the future?
I know that this referendum is going to be tough. In the face of all that’s going on around the country and across Europe, we’ve got to convince our members and the public that staying in Europe is the best option. That will be tough, but I know we can do it.
A big part of winning the argument is positively defeating the myths and answering honestly the questions and concerns people have.
Wales as a net beneficiary
So what about those who say there’s no point or need in Wales being part of the European Union?
Nonsense. In Wales, we know we get more money back from the EU than what we put in. Each person in Wales receives £70 more from the EU budget than they put in. That’s a net gain of £838 million per year from the E.U. budget.
It’s really easy to forget what that money means in practical terms for Wales. It means a total investment of £3.6bn since 2007 as well as the creation of over 11,900 enterprises and 34,700 jobs. It also means helping over 64,700 people into work and over 204,100 to gain qualifications.
I can’t imagine us ever getting that amount of money and support from Westminster.
Experts are saying young people could swing the referendum result.
I think that’s right. Just look at Jobs Growth Wales. The Welsh Government’s programme has created job opportunities for over 17,000 young people in Wales. Many of them young people are members of Unite. Without the EU, the Welsh Government could never have offered that level of support to young people across this country.
The biggest challenge will be making sure young people are registered. If we do that, I’ve got no doubt they’ll vote to remain – they understand how interconnected the world is and how the world has changed from where we were before the EU existed.
The Agriculture sector is very important to Wales and the UK.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that the UK Government could never replace the CAP funds if we were outside the EU. It’s been estimated that the UK Government would only provide £1 billion for farmers across the whole of the UK if we were outside the EU.
This is less than half what Welsh farmers alone receive at the moment.
But I also think there’s another aspect to this, and that’s farming exports. Outside the EU, farmers and fishermen might well have to pay tariffs on certain goods. We would have no say if the E.U decided to raise tariffs. Our farmers would have to compete with heavily subsidised European farmers.
The cost of being in the EU
For those who ask ‘does being part of the EU costs workers in Wales?’
I’ll tell you what would cost Welsh workers, not being part of the EU. In recent years, we’ve seen Wales reach record levels of inward investment. That’s good for Wales and our members. Let’s be absolutely clear, companies invest in Wales and others parts of the UK to have tariff free access to a market of 500 million people.
Over 190,000 Welsh Jobs rely directly upon EU funding. That’s around 3.1 million jobs across the UK.
These jobs are at risk because of the leave campaign.
You only have to look at Airbus up in North Wales, or Ford here in the South.
We have well over 6,000 members in these two workplaces alone.
I won’t let a group of Eurosceptics put their jobs at risk on the back of being anti-immigration!
The EU in UK law
We also hear Nigel Farage and other UKIP MEPs say that 75% of our laws come from Brussels.
In reality, this figure is more like 8 to 10 % and include things like;
Four weeks paid leave per year
time off for urgent family reasons
good breaks during the working day
Protection for workers from discrimination or harassment.
Stronger rights for disabled people to win equal treatment
Employers are required to protect health and safety of staff.
Mums have protection against being sacked from being pregnant.
Time off for ante-natal appointments
All of this thanks to those 8 to 10% of laws from the EU. Some people will say we had these protections before joining the EU. In some workplaces where trade unions were strong, we had some protections. The vital difference here is that these protections are now in law!
We all know, as trade unionists, the difference these laws have made.
Look, I know we’ve got to answer honestly the questions and concerns people have about immigration. And I know immigration is something that people talk about – even in the union. It’s mostly fuelled by the right wing press.
I know that many people believe EU migrants are taking resources and benefits from Wales and others parts of the UK.
Around 2.2 million UK citizens live and work in the EU.
Statistic after statistic, report after report shows that EU migrants put far more into the public purse than they take out. EU migration contributes about £60 billion to the UK economy.
We’ve just come through what was a really interesting Welsh Assembly Election. When I was going around the country, a lot of people were asking me why it’s fair that migrants ‘turn up in the UK and start claiming benefits straight away?’
Now firstly, it’s not a devolved issue, but more importantly, it’s just not true.
Cameron and the Remain camp
The public will look at both sides and see Boris Johnson on one and Cameron on the other. I don’t think that’s good for either camp.
We’ve got to make it quite clear that we believe in a different Europe – one of solidarity, fairness and social partnership.
We’ve seen in the Conservative Party how divisive an issue the EU is. I won’t let Boris Johnson’s leadership bid divert attention from this extremely important election.
TTIP is being mentioned now and again by trade union members. I know some people believe we should leave the EU because of it. Our job is to say the following:
We won’t know the final text until it is put before the European Parliament for ratification.
Furthermore, leaving the EU would sacrifice our ability to influence the deal
Finally, if we were not in the EU there would still be a U.S. – U.K. TTIP under the Tories, and it would be much worse.
The referendum is an opportunity of a lifetime – a chance to put this argument about Europe to bed. The vote will be perhaps one of the most profound political decisions of my lifetime.
I think people forget how long ago it was since we last had our say on Europe. Our job now is to make sure people understand and realise the benefits of our membership.