Two weeks, one day. It’s not long is it?
Before we know it we’ll all be in voting booths up and down the country, making a decision that will affect not only our lives but the lives of our children and grandchildren too.
For people who believe in equality, protecting the environment and working together, there’s no doubt in my mind that voting to remain is the only option.
Take workers’ rights for example. The EU is, as it stands, a real brake on attacks on our rights. Cross-border rules mean that we're not forced to work more than 48 hours per week, that we're entitled to four weeks paid holiday and that part time and agency workers are entitled to equal pay and conditions. Women are guaranteed equal pay for equal value of work by an EU ruling. Crucially these rules apply to every single country across the entire EU – thus stopping multinational firms engaging in a ruthless race to the bottom as they hop, skip and jump across borders in search of a less protected workforce. If we leave, then what? I can’t imagine Michael Gove and Boris Johnson fighting to protect our rights at work while they desperately seek trade deals with other countries, can you?
Then there’s the environment. Challenges like air pollution, sewage in the seas and threats to migrating species don’t queue up politely at national borders, waiting for their passports to be checked. Indeed if we didn’t have the EU to bring together countries to work on these issues, then we’d have to invent it all over again.
In every corner of Britain the EU is protecting the environment. Towns and cities blighted by air pollution are finally seeing the British Government forced to act to cut the amount of dangerous particles we’re breathing. Precious species in the countryside are protected by tough EU laws which stop overzealous development. Our beaches – many of which were too filthy to enjoy not so long ago – are now cleaner, and our once-polluted seas are safer to swim in too. Young people enjoy a cleaner environment than their parents did at their age – but Brexit risks all of this progress.
I have to admit, as someone who cares about social justice and the environment, I’ve not always been a big fan of the way the European Union has acted. It’s not as accountable or democratic as I might like. But the same can be said for Westminster. We have a Government elected by just 24% of the eligible vote, and an unelected second chamber – but you don’t see brexiteers calling for us to walk away from the British Parliament. If we want to reform the EU – and give more power to citizens – then we need to put pressure on our Government and MEPs to make it happen.
When it comes to disagreeable policy from the EU we’re deeply mistaken if we think walking away will keep us safe. Take TTIP, for example: the dreaded trade deal with the USA is being highlighted by the Leave campaign as reason to quit the European Union. The truth is that our best bet of defeating TTIP is by staying in the EU – and working with the 3 million people who have signed a petition aiming to stop the deal, the hundreds of thousands who have marched against it and the French Government who look like they're going to block it altogether. A British Government outside the EU will simply insert the dangerous Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism into a whole series of bilateral trade agreements instead. The idea that we’ll have a kinder trade policy if we leave the EU and leave negotiations to Boris and Gove is utterly misguided.
Indeed it’s astonishing that Gove and Johnson are now trying to frame themselves as progressives in this debate. Not only are they deceiving the British public about the amount that they claim we send to Brussels (a lie they’ve plastered on the side of a bus), but they’re attempting to say that leaving the EU would somehow be good for our public services. Nothing could be further from the truth. Brexiteers like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have advocated charging for health services in the past – yet suddenly they’re trying to frame themselves as champions of the NHS. The truth is that leaving the EU would be bad for the NHS and our public services because of the economic shock of brexit, as well as the loss of potential new staff coming from other EU countries. The real threat to our most loved public service is free market fanatics like Gove, Johnson and Farage.
If those of us on the progressive side of politics don’t get our act together and campaign for an ‘In’ vote then we’ll do a huge favour for Farage and his friends – and give further fire to their narrow, closed view of what Britain should be. Either we believe in cross-border working on the shared issues we face, or we don't. Rather than standing on the sidelines and shouting for a better EU we must commit to the principle of its existence - and fight to make it better.
So let’s stop hesitating on this issue. It’s time get real, hold our nose about who is on our side, and campaign for the only progressive choice in this referendum: a vote to remain.
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