Labour's Vision for Remaining and Reforming as Part of the EU

16/06/2016 12:00
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

This blog is an edited version of the speech delivered by Jeremy Corbyn on the Labour case to vote remain in the EU at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in Yorkshire, Thursday 16 June

Thank you for inviting me here to South Yorkshire. I appreciate the time of the workforce and the support from the management to enable this to go ahead. Talking of the workers here, I'm guessing you were delighted when you heard you were going to get an extra hour's break from work. And so I can only imagine the disappointment when you then learned that hour was for listening to a politician talking about Europe. But there is no doubt we all face a vital vote just a week away and I want to have a serious conversation about it and set out some of Labour's ideas about Europe, and how to reform it. Not many people are grateful for the work politicians do. I don't have any difficulty understanding why, the political class has let our country down in so many ways, but today I want to try and restore a bit of faith in politics, and set out how politics done in a different way, can improve our lives and our communities. The work you do here in developing the manufacturing base of the future is crucial to our economy. We need many more sites like this, backed up with a proper industrial strategy to use their innovations to build an economy of the future that can deliver for all. The Chancellor George Osborne promised "a march of the makers" five years ago, but that has signally failed to materialise. Once again we've been given a soundbite, but very little action on the ground. What this referendum campaign has shown, more than anything, is that politicians have failed, and are failing, to come up with solutions to the problems that people face across Britain. The insecurity of work the lack of good well-paid jobs, the high cost of housing, whether to rent or to buy, how we adjust to, and pay for, an ageing society, the failure to ensure decent economic growth in all parts of the country and in which we all share. That is the failure of politicians, not of the EU or of EU migrants for that matter. Too many voices in this debate are only playing that old trick the blame game. And when politicians play the blame game, it's usually because they have nothing serious to offer themselves. Those pushing us to leave the EU, Conservative MPs like Iain Duncan Smith, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, say that more money could be spent on the NHS if we left, they've also promised more money for farming, for fishing, for university research, for tax cuts. They've promised our EU contribution over and over again. But does anyone really believe they're the saviours of our NHS? Hardly. They really are wolves in sheep's clothing: These are the same Tory Ministers and MPs who voted to:

  • cut mental health budgets
  • scrap nurses' and midwives' bursaries
  • slash social care for the elderly and disabled
  • open up ever more of the NHS to private companies and private patients
  • pick damaging and unnecessary fights with junior doctors
Now they want to use people's real concerns about the impact of EU migration to turn the campaign into a referendum on immigration. It's easy to blame people who come to this country, to blame the outsider, to blame bureaucrats in Brussels. It's also very convenient for politicians too. If you're blaming a scapegoat you're not blaming the people with the real power, the corporate elite and the politicians in government who do its bidding. Politicians certainly need to take responsibility, so let me make a start. I mentioned the banking crash yes, that was the fault of bankers but the Conservative governments of Thatcher and Major scrapped financial regulations that would have prevented that crash and Labour failed to re-regulate. So blame our own governments, don't blame the EU or immigrants. It was those same governments of the 1980s and early 90s that deregulated the labour market so that zero hours contracts could flourish and the share of wealth going to workers fell off a cliff. It is unscrupulous employers and politicians who have allowed temporary contracts, agency and enforced part-time working, and bogus self-employment to mushroom. So blame the politicians who opened the door to rampant job insecurity. When people migrated here from the Caribbean in the 1950s and 1960s there was very little debate about migrants driving down wages and undercutting because then we had powerful employment protection and strong trade union rights. The veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner talked yesterday in Parliament about Shirebrook. For many years that site was a coal mine where Eastern European miners working alongside English colleagues doing the same job, earning the same pay and in the same union. Today that same site is owned by Mike Ashley's Sports Direct where he employs 200 full-time employees and 3,000 people, mainly east Europeans, on zero-hours contracts. Today we have a deregulated labour market that allows unscrupulous employers to undercut local pay by exploiting migrant workers and undercut good businesses by forcing a race to the bottom. So migrants aren't driving down wages. Unscrupulous employers are because the government allows them. Actually by working with the European Union, Labour governments brought in the agency workers' directive the working time directive and a whole package of legislation that helped to protect workers across Europe. Migrants that come here, work here, earn here and pay their taxes here. But, do you know what? There are other forms of free movement that really anger me. The free movement of money abroad to dodge the taxes that fund our public services, the free movement of our country's wealth and corporate profits into tax havens. Does anyone here own an offshore trust? Do any of your family or friends own an offshore trust? So who was David Cameron standing up for when he wrote to the EU in November 2013 opposing proposals transparency into who owns these shady offshore trusts? From cuts to disability benefits and cuts tax credits, to tax breaks for the super-rich and corporations. We have a Government making the wrong choices and sticking up for the wrong people. Or take another example, a couple of years ago, the EU also came forward with a proposal to restrict bankers' bonuses and what did George Osborne do? Again he rushed to Brussels within an army of taxpayer-funded lawyers to oppose it and he lost. But what about the positive solutions? I won the leadership of the Labour Party by a landslide because our campaign stood for something different, straight-talking, honest politics. If there's a problem we will work to find a solution - not someone to blame. Start with immigration the biggest issue for many people in this referendum campaign. EU migrants pay in more in taxes than they take out in benefits. They contribute to our society and 52,000 of them work in our NHS saving our lives, caring for our loved ones. But large increases in migration in particular areas can put a strain on our stretched public services, already hammered by government spending cuts - local schools, GPs surgeries and housing. So we are calling for a Migrant Impact Fund to pump extra cash into local areas where large scale migration puts a strain on public services - on schools, GPs surgeries and housing. Such a fund used to exist, Gordon Brown established it in 2008 but David Cameron abolished it two years later. He was also the guy who pledged he would cut net migration below 100,000, if you remember. But today it's well over 300,000 far higher than at any point under Labour governments and local authorities and public services have had their budgets slashed at the same time. And, as I raised with David Cameron yesterday in Parliament, we can and we must act now to end the scandal of jobs here in Britain that are only advertised abroad. As I said before, if you want someone to blame, blame politicians and some of the appalling employers they protect. And if we want to stop insecurity at work and the exploitation of zero hours contracts that are being used to drive down pay and conditions, why don't we do what other European countries have done and simply ban them? Zero hours contracts are not allowed in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland and Spain. It seems we're the odd one out. Our politicians now in power are choosing not to tackle exploitation, but we will. We have to clamp down on exploitation as we've seen at Sports Direct in Shirebrook and hire many more workplace inspectors to enforce the minimum wage. I don't want to see workers here being exploited and driving down wages and conditions. We can stop this, and we must. Many of you from this part of South Yorkshire will remember that miners used to get free coal. In Denmark, Portugal and Germany today communities are setting up energy companies which sell electricity back to them at discounted rates. But ridiculously, it's illegal to do that here. We need to learn from the best in Europe. Just down the road in Nottingham, Robin Hood Energy - a community energy scheme - has been established by the Labour council, no private shareholders, no director bonuses. Just low and competitive energy tariffs, but they could be lower still, and more councils would be doing the same if we had the same rules as elsewhere in Europe. Labour is calling for a vote to remain in Europe at next week's referendum because we believe staying in the European Union offers our people a better future in terms of jobs, investment, rights at work and environmental protection. But we are also campaigning for reform of the European Union because we are convinced Europe needs to change to work for all, to become more democratic, strengthen workers' rights, ditch austerity and end the pressure to privatise. So we have a vision for Europe, and an agenda for change, I have been discussing with leaders and governments across Europe. Because in our globalised world we cannot live in isolation, we achieve far more by cooperating and working together with other countries. Think about pollution, we could have the best environmental protection in the world, but if our neighbours are pumping poisonous chemicals into the air, or dumping waste into the sea, that will damage us regardless. Pollution doesn't respect national borders. Next year the UK will have the presidency of the European Union, if we vote to remain. That means Britain can lead, can push our agenda for change, our vision for Europe.

On tax avoidance, our Revenue and Customs estimates that there is a £34billion tax gap. Little infuriates people more than the super-rich class and big business acting as if paying taxes is optional only for the little people.

There are proposals now in Europe for country-by-country tax reporting, which means that companies pay their taxes in the countries where they make their profits.

Labour members of the European parliament have backed this plan every time, while Conservatives ones oppose it, time and time again.

We also have a special obligation to tackle tax havens, since so many of Britain's overseas territories and crown dependencies are tax havens. So we must support an EU-wide blacklist of tax havens, to sanction them and back measures to eradicate them.

On workers' rights, we need far stronger action across Europe. There is a little known EU directive, for example, called the Posting of Workers Directive. It allows companies that win contracts in another part of Europe to take workers to other countries. They can post their workers abroad temporarily, rather than go through new recruitment processes.

But legal judgements have opened up loopholes meaning that these companies are able to undercut the going rate in one country by paying the going rate in another.

In extreme cases it has meant workers not being paid the minimum wage of the country they're working in because it is above the rate of their home nation.

This loophole can and must be closed and there is a proposal on the table to do so. Labour would work to secure agreement from other countries to back it.

I mentioned the scandal of zero hours contracts earlier too. As well as outlawing these exploitative contracts in Britain, we should go further and work with our allies to establish a European minimum standard of rights at work to stop undercutting and give people the job security they need.

And now that Germany has introduced a minimum wage there is an opportunity to move towards a European-wide minimum wage - linked to average pay and the cost of living in each country to halt the race to the bottom in pay and conditions, and increase wages across Europe.

On the refugee crisis, Europe has had to respond to a crisis on our borders on an unprecedented scale. It is the biggest refugee crisis in global history. We - as a continent, all of us - have made mistakes but now we have to learn the lessons.

If our union means anything, it means coming up with an agreed and united response that shares the responsibility.

On energy and the environment, under the Tories, the UK has slipped from 3rd to 13th in the world as the best place to invest in renewables.

Subsidies for renewables have been cut by this government, yet the European Investment Bank has invested nearly £1.5billion since 2007 - a quarter of all its renewable funding. The European Investment Bank has been bailing out this government's failure to invest.

Across Europe, investment in renewable energy is coming from government and being supported properly, renewable energy is increasingly being owned by local communities, schools or workplaces. These decentralised energy grids are more efficient, less polluting and give us all more control.

So we need to learn from the best practice across Europe, and find a mechanism to promote and encourage socially-owned clean energy across our continent.

Our government has watered down our commitments under the EU energy efficiency directive, we would recommit to that because the technology is there to make every new building a near-zero energy building.

We must have the vision and the strategy to create a sustainable economy, both in Britain and across our continent.

On banking regulation, we need to throw our weight behind a Financial Transaction Tax, sometimes known as the Robin Hood Tax.

There are currently 10 countries in Europe working together to secure a financial transactions tax across the European Union. This is a small tax on specific financial transactions to help prevent the sort of banking crash we saw a few years back, that led to the deepest economic crisis since the 1930s.

What was the British Government's response to this proposal? To rush to Europe to oppose it, threatening legal action.

Labour wants to help drive this reform, to build support for an EU-wide tax as a step towards a global tax. We must reform our banking sector and discourage the dangerous practices that undermined the banks across Europe and globally.

The process is currently in a fragile state, despite the support of France and Germany, but imagine the impetus Britain's support could give to the campaign, both in Europe and among major economies around the world.

On migration, we should press at European level for a Migration Relief Fund available to local authorities all over Europe to assist in supporting and upgrading schools, hospitals and public services in areas of high migration within the EU.

On trade, we know that core purpose of the European single market scrapping trade tariffs and barriers between countries not just in Europe but dozens more has helped bring us jobs, investment and growth.

But EU legislation that pressures governments to privatise or deregulate public services, such as rail and communications, or restrict public ownership, needs to be reformed.

And we will not sign up to trade deals that are about privatising our public services weakening consumer protections, environmental standards or food safety standards.

That's why - like France - Labour would veto the TTIP transatlantic EU-US trade deal as it stands.

By taking this approach, setting out a positive vision of hope and progress, and a clear agenda of reform for Britain's EU presidency in 2017, I believe we can demonstrate that politics can make a difference. That we can improve lives and communities and show not only what the European Union is, but what it can become.

There is a warning for Europe here, whatever the outcome of next week's referendum, that the EU must demonstrate its continued relevance to its people or it will be rejected. But it's up to British politicians too, to lead that change.

I have tried to set out today some of Labour vision for Remain and reform in the European Union.

More importantly I hope I've been able to restore a bit of faith in what politics can do. If you have a decent government committed to making our country and our world a better place.

I encourage you all to vote Remain on 23 June and then to support our campaign for the changes we want to see here in Britain and across Europe.

Things can and, with your help, they will change.

Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour Party, and MP for Islington North