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Why we should Remain: A speech by Charlotte Crane

June 21, 2016 2:35 PM
By Charlotte Cane
Charlotte Crane

Charlotte Crane

On 10 June Charlotte Crane delivered the following speech to a local audience as part of a debate on Britain's future in Europe. We reproduce it here with Charlotte's permission:

Thank you all for coming this evening to discuss whether or not we should remain in the European Union.

For me there are many reasons to remain in the Union, but the three most important are:

  • Peace and security;
  • Environmental protection; and
  • Citizens' rights

First Peace and Security

In 2012 the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition of our contribution to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.

The 20th Century was blighted by two terrible World Wars in which millions of people were displaced, tortured and killed. The underlying conflicts between France, Germany and the UK were at the root of both of these wars - and many earlier wars. Today war between Germany, France and the UK is unthinkable, largely because we are so closely engaged economically and socially through the European Union.

The introduction of democracy is a condition for membership of the Union. Greece, Portugal and Spain joined in the 1980s, cementing their fledgling democracies after the defeat of the Colonels in Greece, authoritarian regimes in Portugal and the death of Franco. Through the Union we have also encouraged and supported previous Eastern bloc countries to move to democracy - most recently Croatia. Montenegro and Serbia are negotiating to join and this is strengthening the process of reconciliation in The Balkans - where Europe saw 'Concentration Camps' yet again as recently as the close of the 20th Century. I am proud to have been part of a Union which has supported the return of democracy to its birthplace and across Europe.

The possibility of EU membership for Turkey has also advanced democracy and human rights in that country. Recent events there have shown it will be a long time before they meet the criteria for membership. But what a prize that would be - minority groups, such as the Kurds, enjoying full human rights; Turkey recognising Cyprus; Turkey and Greece working closely together; a clear example of a large, predominantly Muslim nation embracing democracy and human rights together with the principles of Islam. Not an easy prize to win, but one which I think it's worth working for.

When I started my degree in Birmingham it was just two years after the IRA bombs had killed 21 people and injured nearly 200 more enjoying a night out in local pubs. While I was at school my father, an Army Officer, did a tour of duty in Northern Ireland where he had to be armed even when visiting old College friends for dinner. In Ireland itself nearly 4,000 people were killed and many more were injured during 'The Troubles'.

Just a few days' after the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, spoke to the European Parliament together. They acknowledged the 'support', 'inspiration' and 'guidance' provided by the European Union in the search for peace in Northern Ireland. The EU provided a forum for Prime Minister Thatcher and Taoiseach FitzGerald to meet on neutral ground. This became formalised with them writing into the Hillsborough Agreement 'the determination of both governments to develop close cooperation as partners in the European Community'. Placing the issue of cross-border cooperation in a context of shared European interests reduced the political temperature and encouraged discussions to resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland. In addition, the Union has a Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation to: 'combat social exclusion, promote reconciliation and cross-border development, and contribute to the social and economic regeneration of Northern Ireland and the six adjacent border counties'.

When asked for his views of the impact of Brexit on the Peace process the Republic's Ambassador in London, said that "… we are obviously concerned about the future of the border. Our open border is the biggest symbol, perhaps, of the normality and development of north-south relations. The fact is that no one can be 100% certain about what the impact of the border will be if the UK decides to exit the EU".

Clearly, everyone of goodwill will want to continue good working relationships, so us leaving the Union shouldn't risk Peace in Ireland, but it will mean negotiating agreements about border controls, cross border working and funding cross border initiatives. It will be an uncertain and difficult time for many people who are still striving to re-build communities after years of armed conflict.

Next environmental protection

The UK Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee in March this year found that 'the EU has led the UK to improve environmental standards in areas such as air and water pollution and biodiversity.' It is impossible to deal with the huge problems which face us at a solely national level. Pollution doesn't respect national boundaries and environmental measures often have a cost to industry. Working through the EU has given our business community the opportunity to shape regulation at the European level. By cooperating with our European neighbours we can address environmental challenges, such as climate change, which have wide-ranging economic and social implications. And, using the additional strength of the Union we can influence other key players on the environment such as China and the US.

Back in the 1980s most of our beaches were disgusting - raw sewage floated on the surface making them unfit for swimmers and unpleasant for surfers. Seaside resorts were struggling to attract visitors and were declining economically. The British Government came under increasing pressure from the EU to clean up our beaches. Successive Directives aimed at cleaning polluted water, and some successful court cases against the British Government led to serious action by government, water and waste companies. As people go to British beaches this summer, they can be reassured that 99% of our designated beaches are clean enough for swimming. This clean-up cost a lot of money, but now seaside tourism is worth about £3.6bn a year and supports over 200,000 jobs in England and Wales alone. The next big step will be to tackle plastic pollution in the sea. The EU marine strategy and circular economy directives (which seek to increase re-use and recycling) will help tackle this pervasive problem across European waters.

Action to manage and improve air quality is largely driven by EU legislation. Whilst sulphur dioxide emissions were declining before we joined the EU, the air quality directive and related laws have led to significant reductions in harmful emissions. In the 1980's the government promised to phase out leaded petrol in Britain because of its proven harm to health. They used Britain's influence in the Union to ban leaded petrol across the EU. Ironically, the British Government was unable to resist industry lobbying and ban leaded petrol in the UK until 1999 and then only because we were forced to do it by a European Directive. An example of a British idea blocked by big industry and finally implemented by the European Union.

European environmental policies also offer business opportunities to UK firms as they can become leaders in developing new technologies. The UK has the potential to be at the forefront of investments into carbon capture and storage, and renewables. The Confederation of British Industry has suggested that green business accounted for 8% of GDP, a third of UK growth in 2011-2012 and could add a further £20 billion to the UK economy. Indeed UK businesses played a key role in calling for ambitious domestic and European carbon targets in order to provide a more certain investment climate for industry.

Finally citizens' rights

The rights of every individual within the Union were established at different times, in different ways and in different forms. The EU has brought these together, updated them and drafted the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. This enshrines the rights of all citizens across the Union to equality, justice and dignity. It provides support to the European Convention on Human Rights and each country's own human rights legislation, such as our Human Rights Act. Crucially, it allows individual citizens to challenge the State when they feel they have been discriminated against or otherwise mistreated.

These rights have had a significant impact on employment law. Leaving the EU would risk losing: annual leave, agency worker rights, part-time worker rights, fixed-term worker rights, collective redundancy, paternity, maternity and parental leave, protection of employment upon the transfer of a business and anti-discrimination legislation.

The EU ensures that workers must have a minimum of 20 days paid holiday. The UK government has increased the minimum to 28 days to reflect our 8 bank holidays. But we still have some of the lowest entitlement in the EU - where the average is 34 days. If we stay in the Union, our paid holidays cannot reduce below 20 days and the pressure to reduce is less because our main competitors already give at least as much paid leave as us. If we leave, we will be competing with countries like America, who have no minimum and where nearly one quarter of private employers give no paid holiday at all.

Equality between women and men is one of the European Union's founding values. The principle of equal pay for equal work is part of the Treaty of Rome signed in 1957. I have personally benefitted from EU influenced equality legislation through my career and want the next generations to benefit too. When I started work women were expected to take sexual comments and even groping in our stride - at worst it was a joke and at best we should take it as a compliment. We were usually paid less, could be asked at interview about our child caring responsibilities and even our plans for having children. Now sexual harassment is a disciplinary issue and in many cases a crime. Discriminatory questions are illegal and we should receive equal pay for work of equal value. Of course, there is still a long way to go before we have true equality - but we have moved a long way forward.

The Union has recognised that despite improvements, gender gaps remain and women are still over-represented in lower paid work and under-represented in decision-making positions. So they have set in place a wide ranging programme which aims to improve gender equality over the next 5 years - reducing the pay gap; increasing the number of women in senior roles and tackling violence against women.

In conclusion

Britain's sovereignty and our democracy mean a lot to me - I have spent over 40 years campaigning within it and campaigning to improve it. For fair voting and an elected second chamber rather than one selected through birth or political appointment. It might seem attractive to stand alone, make all our laws in our parliament, assemblies and town halls - to decide everything in the UK for the UK. But we all know that teams are stronger than lone individuals. Being part of a team means discussion, compromise and reaching a consensus. Yes, this can be time consuming and frustrating, but it usually leads to an outcome which benefits most people.

We already share our military sovereignty within NATO; our trade sovereignty within the World Trade Organisation; and on a whole range of issues within the United Nations. Closer to home, we share our sovereignty with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland through the United Kingdom.

Since 1973 we have shared sovereignty with our European neighbours. This has meant compromise and at times it can be very frustrating. But it has allowed us to influence and benefit from the development of a peaceful, democratic Europe with strong human rights that is the largest economic bloc in the world.

I want us to remain at the heart of the EU to continue influencing this positive development in Europe. I want UK citizens to keep the benefits which membership of the EU has delivered over the last 40 years - peace, a clean environment and strong human rights.

I urge you to vote against tonight's motion and for remaining as members of the European Union.

Charlotte Cane

10 June 2016