For many on the Left, the case for remaining in the EU essentially consists of: vote Remain because the British people are bastards who are not to be trusted. Consider this article in The Independent; it lists the employment legislation that would be “at risk” if Britain left the EU (which is actually not that much, as the article shows).
Number one on the post-Brexit ‘at risk list’ is the potential loss of annual-leave entitlement for employees on long-term sick (whereby people can return to work from months off sick, only to then immediately go on holiday with all of their accrued annual-leave). But, post-Brexit, what would this legislation be at risk from? Answer: the democratically elected government of Britain (which may not want such laws), and, ultimately, the British electorate.
The Independent article cites Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, who states (elsewhere) that, “Most of the rights that we depend on derive from Europe”, suggesting that a right-less future awaits us if we vote Leave at the referendum (forgive me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Britain introducing workers’ rights legislation as far back as 1819, with Robert Owen’s Cotton Mills and Factories Act?). Again, the implication being that once freed from the EU, the British people will happily vote for governments that dismantle our employment legislation. Here, the rationale for remaining in the EU is that people from continental Europe can shield the British electorate from their own potential democratic choices. For O’Grady, it is of the utmost importance that the British people be protected from the British people.
Consider this TUC document: Women’s Rights: The Risks of Brexit. It tells us that, “Britain’s membership of the EU has led to significant improvements in the rights of women at work”. It cites EU legislation that, “guarantees women a minimum period of maternity leave, a right to return to the same job and protection from dismissal or any other unfavourable treatment because of pregnancy or maternity”.
It is, apparently, impossible to contemplate that such laws could ever have been passed by a British parliament. This, despite the fact that multiple ‘female-empowering’ laws have been passed by British parliaments, without any Brussels involvement: see the Equal Pay Act (1970), the Sex Discrimination Act (1975), the Employment Protection Act (1975) and the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004).
The truth is that women’s rights have been advancing inexorably for over a century; the direction of travel has all been one way. A small minority of this change has been facilitated by EU law. The pro-EU lobby would, however, have us believe that without the EU, British women would be but ghostly figures, entirely passive, failing consistently to effect any change via the UK electoral system. Foreign people had to step in to help.
The TUC document concludes thus, “There would be a great deal of uncertainty following a vote for Brexit. But a government [the Tories] that is keen on cutting ‘burdens on business’ would be unlikely to leave workers’ rights intact”. The democratically elected government of Britain is again portrayed as a danger to the British electorate, who must be protected from it. The EU is seen, favourably, as some vast thwarter of democratic choice. Apparently, we should cede our sovereignty in perpetuity because a group of political activists do not like one particular government at a particular point in history.
The stated case that a vote for Brexit will lead to a loss of workers’ and women’s rights (rights which, for reasons of argument, will be regarded here as unalloyed goods), can only hold water if one of two things is true – 1) that the typical Brit is something to be loathed and feared, a nasty doofus who believes neither in rights for himself, nor for his countrymen, and who will never vote or agitate for such rights to be restored. Or 2) that a once-more independent UK would be somehow democratically flawed and that such rights could be taken from the people, against their will, by a government that cannot be properly held to account. That such negatives could be projected onto an imagined post-Brexit UK government by Remainers is truly galling in its chutzpah. It is to ascribe to British democracy the very undemocratic flaws in the EU Commission that Leavers wish to escape.
Remainers are oft heard to ask, ‘but what will Brexit look like?’ Is this question any more meaningful than asking, ‘but what will the government of 2045 look like?’ It will be as it will be (the odd trade deal aside), as voted for by the British people. If we want powerful workers’ rights we will vote for governments that make this happen. If we don’t, we won’t. Brexit is no more left or right wing than are the British people. Those who cite possible future decisions by the British electorate as ‘dangers’, are attacking both the British people and British democracy. They are the last people we should be listening to.
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