Don’t know what you got (till it’s gone)
British Chambers of Commerce director of policy and external affairs Dr Adam Marshall has an article on the pro-EU British Influence website yesterday. His main argument is that, while the businesses the BCC represents (they claim over 100,000 firms with 5 million workers) still want Britain to stay in the EU, they have grown less convinced by the argument that access to the single market is worth the ‘bureaucracy’ that the EU requires. And he says that the Government’s review of the balance of competences (no, honestly, that’s what it’s called) offers an opportunity to rewrite the rules (the TUC has recently submitted evidence on the single market which argues for the retention of a social dimension.)
Now I suspect this is just more employer whingeing about ‘regulation’ and ‘red tape’, by which they mean the burdensome experience of providing their workers with employment rights and decent terms and conditions. And it probably includes a fair number of businesses that don’t trade directly with other EU countries and totally discount the benefit they receive from the general economic advantages of the single market.
But I suspect it also reflects the fact that the single market has been around for twenty years and a lot of businesses will have discounted the increased profitability that has resulted from access to the largest, richest group of consumers in the world. They’re not really expressing an opinion on whether they want to be in the single market, they’ve decided that access to the single market is eternal.
It’s probably fair to say that trade unions have been just as capable in recent years of discounting the rights that the European Union has written into our employment laws. And certainly, we know from opinion polling at the time that when the Working Time Directive was implemented and provided British workers with a right to paid annual leave for the first time ever, most people in Britain already thought they were entitled to it (although presumably that wasn’t true of the millions of workers who got a paid holiday for the first time.)
However, a poll of trade unionists right now would probably show a less blase approach to EU-derived workers’ rights, because we really do face the prospect that they will be taken away through the repatriation of EU laws that the Prime Minister is proposing. Businesses who think they can get away with renegotiating the UK’s membership of the EU to get a common market without the social dimension that makes it worthwhile to working people are gambling with the UK’s economic future, and they should think long and hard about whether it’s worth the risk!