Nigel Griffiths: Don't let Brussels hold us back any longer

The Scots have always been global citizens whose horizons were never limited to Europe. We are internationalists and Scotland is a multicultural society. What then, is there not to like about the EU?
Former MP Nigel Griffiths launches the Labour Leave campaign outside Edinburgh's National Gallery. Picture: Greg MacveanFormer MP Nigel Griffiths launches the Labour Leave campaign outside Edinburgh's National Gallery. Picture: Greg Macvean
Former MP Nigel Griffiths launches the Labour Leave campaign outside Edinburgh's National Gallery. Picture: Greg Macvean

Is it the fact that for 19 years, Brussels’ colossal spending has not been passed by auditors without heavy qualification?

Or the billions of pounds illegally spent dumping surplus agricultural produce like sugar on Africa and impoverishing farmers there?

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Or the Common Fisheries policy that has devastated our fishing communities while funding EU factory ships to raid the fishing stocks off West Africa, driving African fishing communities into poverty?

Or the endless stream of EU directives, like the one that forces the state-run railways of EU states to put their services out to tender by 2019 so the private sector can make a killing?

Since 1 January, 1973, when the UK joined the then European Economic Community, we have been promised “reform” to counter the many shortcomings of “Brussels”.

This EU referendum isn’t about being able to use your mobile phone abroad or catch a cheap flight: these changes are the result of consumer pressure, not collective political action by MEPs.

This referendum is about freeing ourselves from the shackles of an institution run by a self-selecting undemocratic elite – a revolving door that has seen five ex-prime ministers ascend to the highest unelected office in the European Commission. The Commission’s website announces today that the president – currently the ex-prime minister of Luxembourg – “selects the 27 other members of the Commission” – hardly a model of democracy.

But don’t we elect our members of the European Parliament?

We do, but unlike our MSPs and our MPs, who can form our government, become ministers and members of the cabinet and even prime minister, the people we elect to Brussels can never form any government. That is a crucial weakness, not a strength of the EU.

When the German and French banks freely lent to Greece, the Commission intervened on the side of the banks, ignored a Greek referendum rejecting an austerity programme, and forced the Greeks to pay the debts of the banks, creating 50 per cent youth unemployment.

The French people rejected the EU constitution. They too were ignored.

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The economics of the EU don’t work in our favour. After all, the underlying principle is that money should flow from the rich countries – the UK and Germany – to the poor ones. That’s why we get few structural funds for regional development. A full 82 per cent is reserved for the poorest EU states, mostly central and eastern Europe, so Scotland only gets £94m.

Leaving would allow us to prioritise both what we spend on ourselves and also what contribution we choose to give others.

Why don’t we just accept the status quo? Because that is never an option for Brussels.

Brussels took our seat on the World Trade Organisation. They want our seat on the UN Security Council.

Our annual net contribution to the EU will rise to £15.4bn by 2020 so leaving makes sense.

When I was the Minister for Enterprise and Small Business, I received continuous representation from businesses mired in red tape.

And no wonder. In the past 13 years, the UK had to implement 52,183 EU regulations and laws. By contrast Norway implemented 4,724 in the same period. It is a nonsense for the Prime Minister to claim that “Norway has to accept all the EU laws, but has no influence over them” – another myth.

The cost of EU red tape on British jobs was £13bn, the government estimated in 2010. The Institute of Directors claims it is £80bn or 5.7 per cent of our output.

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Complaints about Brussels red tape are not limited to paperwork.

The 2011 EU Clinical Trials Directive that Big Pharma lobbied for has pushed up the cost of drug trials from £200,000 to £2m and squeezed out cheaper drug producers. Cambridge University’s Professor of Clinical Pharmacology, Professor Morris Brown, labels this directive “a disaster that threatens patients’ lives”.

Let me turn to the issue of immigration. David Cameron has only himself to blame – whipping this up and making unsustainable promises to slash numbers. Immigration has been important to the whole UK. Our NHS has relied on the skills of Commonwealth immigrants from day one. Today, many of their offspring are nurses and doctors who care for us now. But current Commonwealth citizens, with the requisite qualifications, and English as a first language, have no migration rights compared with the fast-track entitlement of workers from the 27 EU states.

Leaving the EU allows us to set our own criteria for recruiting people overseas to fill essential posts in the UK. But we also need to address our failure to provide enough apprenticeships, train enough health workers or address skills shortages caused by the shortsighted policies by our governments.

Many jobs are being filled by unscrupulous employers recruiting and exploiting workers from the poorest countries in the EU.

On 20 December, the Bank of England published “The Impact of Immigration on Occupational Wages” revealing that such practices helped force UK wages down by 2 per cent. Leaving the EU will improve wages.

Has the EU kept the peace in Europe?

I am an internationalist and chaired the Scottish Kosovo refugee appeal. People forget at their peril the failure of the EU to support intervention in Bosnia or Kosovo. Three million people were driven from their homes and 50,000 women were raped. The butchery of 100,000 people was only stopped because of independent action by us with UN approval – the EU could not be relied on.

Peace within the EU was enforced by two non-EU countries, the US and Soviet Union occupying Germany with a million soldiers for over 40 years.

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The UK hosts 436,000 foreign students every year. Only 93,000 come from EU and 346,000 from non-EU countries. And 90,000 come from China alone. So not being a member of the EU is no barrier to students choosing where to study. Our science budget was badly hit when the EU robbed the Horizon budget of £2bn as we paid for the Euro-bailout.

Far from protecting union rights, the EU is leading the attack on some of the Labour government’s best achievements:

◆ zero hours contracts are being promoted under EU Flexible Labour Market Rules.

◆ free collective bargaining has been suspended in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Romania.

◆ in the Viking-Line case the European Court of Justice protects an employer’s freedom to void collective agreements with trade unions and cut jobs and terms and conditions.

Three million UK jobs depend on being in the EU. But 5 million jobs inside the EU depend on their exports – £63bn more to us than we ship to them.

One million German and 494,000 French jobs depend on their exports to us. More champagne was sold here last year than in France. And 421,000 Spanish jobs and 309,000 Italian jobs all depend on our purchases. Germany exports over £11bn worth of cars to us. France exports £940m in wine, Spain £537m in fruit and Italy £363m in shoes.

For every three items we sell to them, they ship five items to us. Any penal tariffs imposed on us by the EU would mean cutting off their nose to spite their face.

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Unlike Canada, which has taken a decade not to reach a trade agreement, for 44 years, we’ve had a trade treaty with the EU. Why would they tear it up and threaten five million of their own jobs? The leader of the Remain Campaign, Lord Stuart Rose, said “Nothing is going to happen if we come out of Europe in the first five years.” No wonder David Cameron was ridiculed for predicting a global Brexit recession and World War III.

The failure of the EU to agree trade treaties with economic powerhouses like India and China is holding back UK companies. We do very well trading outside the EU and export £27bn more to the rest of the world than they send us.

Switzerland has trade treaties with more countries than the EU. Brussels has wasted years in fruitless negotiations and Scottish steel workers are paying the price. When we leave the EU, we will get our seat on the World Trade Organisation back.

The Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership treaty is being negotiated in secret. Contracts not awarded to US companies for the NHS or Scottish Water could be challenged in court.

The US pumps growth hormones into beef. We do not. We ban 1,200 substances for use in cosmetics, as against 12 in the US. The US has far laxer restrictions on the use of pesticides. TTIP is negotiating for laxer banking regulations too.

We give £5bn per annum to the Common Agricultural Policy. Brussels only gives our farmers £2.9m. Scottish farmers are the least favoured in the EU under the CAP Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 funding rules.

The latest CAP bailout in January cost us €550m to buy up and create dried milk mountains. Last week, the EU’s Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) reported £675m lost in 2014 in fraudulent claims for vegetable depots and factories.

In the past 54 years of the Common Agricultural Policy, Brussels has never got a grip and they never will.

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From Horse Passports and the Pet Travel Scheme to the widespread illegal use of intensive battery cages, lax EU enforcement puts us all at risk. When we leave the EU we can use the £5bn CAP payment on the priorities we agree with our farmers.

The Common Fisheries Policy has been even worse. In 1972, Brussels calculated that the UK waters contained 80 per cent of all Europe’s fish stocks. While UK trawler owners were paid by the EU to scrap their boats, grants were given by the EU to Spain to build new trawlers. The result: cod stocks have declined by 70 per cent in the past ten years while UK jobs have dropped from 40,000 to 10,000 and EU factory fleets steal fish from African waters.

Has the CFP made us self-sufficient in fish? Far from it. The EU is forced to import 60 per cent of fish products. This benefits Norway, whose output has risen by more than 40 per cent in a decade, and Iceland, whose territorial waters are a ninth of the UK’s, but whose fleet catches more fish than ours.

The promised reform of the CFP over 44 years has never materialised. That’s why we need to take back control of our territorial waters.

The UK public has always generously supported the world’s poorest countries. The last Labour government was instrumental in linking aid to anti-corruption initiatives. It increased spending on alleviating poverty, investing in schooling and tackling disease and ill-health in Africa, Asia and South America. But the EU’s approach is marked by lax controls. Too often aid funding on the Continent has been tied to lucrative contracts. Worse, this January the EU’s fraud office reported that an estimated £11bn of Brussels aid was wasted through graft and incompetence. The EU’s chief accountant, Marta Andreasen, refused to sign off the accounts because of the massive internal fraud. She was fired, got herself elected to the European Parliament, then was kept off the committee that scrutinises the budget.

That’s why we need to return control of spending to our parliaments.

The UK is one of the world’s top five economies. The EU has limited our potential and slowed down growth.

It is time to keep the £10bn net we pay Brussels every year, and spend it on our priorities: public services, sustainable farming and fishing, apprenticeships and supporting a solid manufacturing base.

That is why we must vote to leave the EU on 23 June.

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Dr Nigel Griffiths is the Director of Strategy for Labour Leave. From 1987-2010, he was the Labour MP for Edinburgh South – the only seat still held by Labour in Scotland. He served as Minister for Trade and Industry 1997-98 and 2001-2005, and as Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 2005-2007 until he resigned over the government’s decision to renew Trident

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