Cameron’s EU speech may include some of the most worrying comments made by the Coalition so far

23 January 2013 By Roger Jeary The EU is a Westminster village debate which bears little relevance to those outside other than the media and the boardrooms of commerce and industry.

Commentary icon23 Jan 2013|Comment

23 January 2013

By Roger Jeary

The EU is a Westminster village debate which bears little relevance to those outside other than the media and the boardrooms of commerce and industry.

Long awaited and much postponed, this morning (23rd January 2013) we heard David Cameron deliver his thoughts on Europe and the UK’s future role. I must say I found it somewhat ironic that he was introduced to the invited audience by an American, a country that has expressed its own concerns about the potential direction a Conservative government might take the UK on this issue. However, the content was what everyone was waiting to pore over and it was certainly a mixed bag and potentially one of the most worrying economic and social developments that we have seen from this government.

Now I accept that views on the EU vary widely amongst those that give it any consideration at all, (and something we need to remember is that those are in a very tiny minority in the UK). To many it was always a capitalist club set up for the benefit of big business, and this has proven to be the case, albeit the social dimension, however diluted, has proven to be of benefit to the wider UK working population. So what was the point of the Prime Minister’s speech today?

First and foremost, this was a speech to secure his position as leader of the Tory Party for the next election. Leading Euro sceptic Liam Fox rushed to the airwaves within minutes of the end of the speech to express his satisfaction with what the Prime Minister has to say. No doubt he will be followed by most of the remaining sceptics joyful in the wishful thought that should they win another election (heaven forbid) the country will have given them the mandate for an in/out referendum.

However, if you study in detail the text of this speech you do get some very different and clear messages. David Cameron is in favour of the EU. He said so many times, but on his terms. Equally he said that the UK could survive outside the EU albeit still affected by EU decisions. He stressed the need for democratic accountability in the EU but failed to acknowledge the democratic gap that exists between Westminster and the people of the UK. His detachment from his own government’s decisions which have imposed austerity on the UK population was reflected in his comment – “People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity” – designed and enforced by you David not the EU!

And then he attacked what we all know to be the Conservatives real bête noir of the EU – the social dimension. He told us that it “.. is neither right nor necessary to claim that the integrity of the single market, or full membership of the European Union requires the working hours of British hospital doctors to be set in Brussels irrespective of the views of British parliamentarians and practitioners”. In other words, the working time directive which gave UK workers the right to paid holidays and prevents the exploitation by employers of excessive working hours for UK workers will be first to go if he gets his way in the negotiations. No doubt to be swiftly followed by any remaining protection that TUPE still offers following the current UK review.

He told us that the British public disillusionment “with the EU is at an all time high…. Put simply, many ask ‘why can’t we just have what we voted to join – a common market?’.” Who are these many? Men and women whose jobs have been taken from them or their hours cut and their income reduced. Public sector workers whose pay and pensions have been systematically attacked or perhaps those who have been unfairly dismissed and now have no legal redress or cannot afford to exercise their legal rights anymore because of the fees and costs involved? The truth is the EU is a Westminster village debate which bears little relevance to those outside other than the media and the boardrooms of commerce and industry.

If Mr Cameron and his fellow parliamentarians spent a little more time listening to the vast majority of UK citizens he would soon realise that the EU and our future relationship with it does not figure highly, if at all, on their agenda. I do not hear people telling me that they “feel that the EU is heading in a direction that they never signed up to”. Or that they “resent the interference in our national life by what they see as unnecessary rules and regulation”.

So this long-awaited, by some, speech yet again demonstrates the remoteness of Westminster as far the everyday lives of people in the UK are concerned. It will generate days of political comment and analysis by those who earn their living from such debates. It will not address the real concerns of workers and families suffering from the austerity and lack of rights which have been exacerbated by the actions of Mr Cameron and his Coalition government.

Roger Jeary

Roger Jeary Roger Jeary retired from Unite in January 2012 after 33 year’s service as a negotiating officer and Director of Research. Roger worked in Northern Ireland, Manchester and London as an official of the union starting with ASTMS and then MSF and AMICUS before the final merger to Unite. In 2004 he was appointed Director of Research of Amicus and subsequently took on that role for Unite in 2007. Roger is a member of the Institute’s Publications Sub Committee. Currently Roger is a Trustee Director of FairPensions, an independent member of the ACAS Panel of Arbitrators, sits on the Advisory Panel of the IPA and is a member of the Manufacturing Policy Panel of the Institute of Engineering & Technology (IET).