David Cameron recently entertained German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Prime Minister’s country residence Chequers; he was trying to persuade her to support his demands for the UK’s re-negotiated membership of the EU.
The Tories want to reduce workers’ rights and EU migrants’ in-work benefits. Cameron has promised a referendum on UK membership of the EU; if he fails to get the concessions he wants in the re-negotiation it is not clear whether Cameron himself will argue for the UK to remain in the EU. The referendum is likely to be in 2017, but this week the campaigning lines for “leave” and “remain” were being drawn.
Britain Stronger in Europe (BSE), the most unfortunate of acronyms for an uninspiring line-up, a cross-party “in” campaign was launched on Monday 12 October. The launch was presided over by the lacklustre former Marks and Spencer boss, now a Tory Lord, Stuart Rose. Also present were: Karren Brady; former TUC general secretary Brendan Barber; and Green MP Caroline Lucas, though the last two did not get to speak. NUS President Megan Dunn has also joined; NUS policy is to stay in the EU but Dunn has been given no mandate to join BSE or any other campaign.
Their website declares “Britain is stronger, better off and safer in Europe than we would be out on our own. Join the campaign to remain in Europe — and let’s secure a stronger Britain that delivers opportunity now and for future generations.”
In an effort to out-jingo Ukip, the tone of the campaign is heavily patriotic, with red, white and blue branding. At the launch, Rose said:
“To claim that the patriotic course for Britain is to retreat, withdraw and become inward-looking is to misunderstand who we are as a nation.
"I will not allow anyone to tell me I'm any less British because I believe in the strongest possible Britain for business, for our security and our society.”
On the “out” side is “Vote Leave”. A cross-party campaign involving Business for Britain, Labour Leave campaign, and Conservatives for Britain. Supporters also include Green Party peer Jenny Jones and Ukip MP, Douglas Carswell.
Its Parliamentary Planning Committee is made up of Steve Baker, Bernard Jenkin and Owen Paterson (Conservatives for Britain), Douglas Carswell (Ukip), Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins and Graham Stringer (Labour Leave).
Their website has a slick look and subheads with enticing promises: “Vote Leave, take control”, “Vote Leave, invest in science”, “Vote Leave, invest in the NHS”, “Vote Leave, save money”, “Vote Leave, get change”, “Vote Leave, the safer choice”.
Their pitch is that Britain is not in control, pandering to a British chauvinism.
The website explains that “technological and economic forces are changing the world fast. EU institutions cannot cope. We have lost control of vital policies. This is damaging. We need a new relationship. What should it be?
“We negotiate a new UK-EU deal based on free trade and friendly cooperation. We end the supremacy of EU law. We regain control. We stop sending £350 million every week to Brussels and instead spend it on our priorities, like the NHS and science research.
“We regain our seats on international institutions like the World Trade Organisation so we are a more influential force for free trade and international cooperation.”
Vote Leave does not go for a full on anti-migrant message.
But on a list of “issues” is the subtitle “Europe can't cope and is going in the wrong direction”. This is illustrated with a boat crowded with refugees, yet the text underneath does not mention migrants and is to do with control from Brussels, and Britain’s “lack of influence”.
Also in the “out” camp, and vying to be the official “out” campaign, is Leave.EU (formerly “The Know”). Relaunched at Ukip party conference in September by multimillionaire Ukip donor Arron Banks, the campaign insists that it is not party political, i.e. not a front for Ukip.
The Electoral Commission has to designate an official “in” and out” campaigns, who will be given airtime, a grant, and spending limits.
Leave.EU’s pitch also plays to British chauvinism, attempting to conjure up images of Britain as a proud world power:
“Our politicians say this country isn’t good enough; too small to make a difference in the world. We say they have lost confidence in our country. It's time to be a bigger part of the world rather than a smaller part of Europe. We believe Britain could do so much better outside of the EU””
They also make a heavy pitch to workers struggle to make ends meet: “Imagine having £1,000 more to spend each year. By leaving the EU, each household could be better off by this amount — through cheaper food bills, no membership fees, with the cost of regulations lifted, too.”
They also claim to be standing up for democracy. “Imagine not having our laws dictated to us by Brussels. Instead, MPs would become accountable to the public and we would once again be able to make and decide on our own laws.” As if leaving the EU changes the undemocratic nature of the House of Lords, makes MPs more accountable, or magically introduces voting reform.
Leave.EU makes much more of immigration, playing migrants against each other by peddling the idea that they welcome skilled migration but reject “having to accept all EU migrants regardless of skill level.”
We welcome Jeremy Corbyn’s stated opposition to EU withdrawal and demands for a cross-EU campaign for enhanced workers’ and social rights. Attempts by sections of the labour movement — notably by Sir Paul Kenny of the GMB — to trade support for staying in the EU for defence of workers’ rights. We are in favour of workers’ rights and we are in favour of staying in the UK. UK workers have nothing to gain from leaving the EU.
Against cross-party, cross-class collaboration of either “in” or “out” variety, Workers’ Liberty is helping to build Workers’ Europe, an “in” campaign that fights for workers’ rights. We oppose working with business leaders and Conservative politicians, even if they are for staying in.
We shall campaign in favour of the UK remaining in the EU. We will campaign against chauvanism, advocate workers’ unity across Europe, and build the idea of a positive programme for European workers — as an alternative to both the capitalist EU and capitalist nation states.
• Workers' Europe website