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The No campaign’s grim blueprint for a Britain out of Europe

by derekdeedman on 24 August, 2015

By Stuart Bonar who was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in Plymouth Moor View.

Leaving the European Union would be a big deal. It would mean slamming on the brakes, crunching the gears and setting out on a new course, and, in the run-up to the EU referendum, the No campaign will argue that we should do just that. They want us to break with the past and follow a new path. So, what would a No victory mean for the future direction of Britain?

For the answer we need only look as far as Change, or go, Business for Britain’s 1,000-page blueprint for a Britain outside of the EU. The shiny bit that they hope will catch your eye (and which certainly caught the eye of the Daily Telegraph) is their claim that every household will be £933 better off.

Convert that figure from per-household to per-individual, punch the numbers into a calculator and it works out at a rather less impressive £1.06 per person per day. But before you start daydreaming about what you might do with such a windfall, beware. It doesn’t take much scrutiny before it all starts to fall apart.

The Economist calls the figure “dubious”, and a Business for New Europe analysis finds the calculations, err, less than robust.

Take, for example, the Landfill Tax, which has helped cut the amount of rubbish we dump in the ground. The No campaign wants to scrap it, and they claim doing so would leave each household £70 per year better off (page 55 of the report). But while it was an EU Directive that led to the creation of the Landfill Tax, the money it raises goes to the Treasury, not Brussels. Abolishing it would not therefore save Britain any money at all, rather it would create a new billion-pound hole in our public finances. How would the difference be made up? Would my income tax go up? Would the NHS budget be cut? Or would we just throw it on the National Debt and let future generations worry about it?

Even if the savings were real, the No campaign’s plan would not share them out equally or fairly. In fact the authors’ working assumptions tell us much about their vision for the future. For example, the report attacks the EU for rules that give people on temporary contracts “the same entitlement to holidays, pensions and sick pay” as permanent staff, once they have been working for 12 weeks (page 824). They’re particularly keen for councils to strip temporary workers of these rights. If you’re on one of these contracts your life in a Britain outside the EU would be grim.

If you work in the public sector, the outlook isn’t much better. Business for Britain imagines cash savings from abolition of the Working Time Directive, the set of European rules that guarantees things like how many days of paid leave you get each year and how many breaks you must have during a long shift. What this would mean is simple: fewer jobs, longer hours and less leave. Welcome to post-EU Britain.

On benefits? Sorry, you can kiss goodbye to that extra £1.06 too. Page 457 of the report highlights what the No campaign sees as the additional cost to the social security budget of higher food prices caused by EU policies. The report explicitly links the Common Agricultural Policy’s “impact on food prices” with “the associated social welfare costs” (page 819). In other words they are arguing that leaving the EU would open the door to cheaper food imports, which they would use as a pretext to cut benefits.

Next on their target list is what they call “unduly burdensome regulations”. They want to abolish, for example, the requirement for bus operators to fit tachographs on long-distance routes (page 823). These are devices that record the speed vehicles travel at and the hours that drivers work. Really? Oh, to be out of Europe so we can finally be free to use buses driven by shattered, overworked drivers falling asleep at the wheel!

And the list goes on. From fossil fuels to hazardous waste, all sorts of regulations that protect the environment would be thrown on the bonfire once the safeguard of EU membership has been removed.

The vision of Britain conjured up by the No campaign is a un-green, unpleasant land of long working hours, lower employment rights, fewer protections, and bargain-basement standards. The vast majority of British people would reject this future; it is our job to make sure they hear about it.

 

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