For political junkies, the last few months have been absorbing; council elections, the battle for London mayor, police commissioners and, of course, the looming EU referendum. It’s this debate that is now dominating the news agenda and it won’t let up, even after the vote on 23 June.
The question is clear even if the arguments are not: do you want the UK to remain part of the European Union? A vote to ‘remain’ or ‘leave’ will have a major impact on the UK economy and it’s legal framework. But the debate has been controversial, messy and confusing; both sides have been indulging in a spot of ‘project fear’ to win over the undecided. Packaging News has attempted to make sense of it all and we offered representatives from the remain and leave camps to make their pitch to the packaging industry.
Official lead campaign: Stronger In, which can spend up to £7m during the campaign.
Who’s on their side?
It’s an unlikely alliance of politicians including Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron. Ex-Prime Ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Sir John Major have also expressed support.
The case for the EU
A spokesperson from the Stronger In campaign responded to our questions.
Packaging News: Why stay?
Stronger In: The choice in this referendum is between economic security and global influence as part of the EU, or a leap in the dark. A vote to stay is a vote for certainty. We’ll be stronger, safer and better off in Europe because we’ll get to keep access to the single market of 500 million people – Britain’s home market – with a say over the rules of doing business across Europe. That means more jobs, lower prices and more financial security for British families.
A vote to leave is a vote for risk. Vote Leave say they’ll walk away from the single market and negotiate a new deal, but they can’t explain what it would be and how long it will take. The truth is if we left, the EU would not give us a better deal than they have for themselves. This would harm our economy, with an average hit of £4,300 for each UK household and £36bn in spending cuts, which would hit the NHS.
If we leave, jobs aren’t safe, prices will rise, mortgages will be at risk and funding for your local school or hospital will fall. It is a risk not worth taking. We can’t afford to leave the EU.
PN: How does it benefit the business community?
SI: The single market is the best economic relationship Britain can have with Europe. It allows us to trade without tariffs right across the continent and it gives us a say over the rules of doing business. That means it expands our home market from 65 million consumers to 500 million. So British firms can do business in Berlin under the same rules as in Brighton. The Treasury estimates that three to four million jobs are linked to our trade with Europe. No alternative to membership of the single market is remotely as good for Britain.
The other countries in Europe are not going to give Britain a better deal than the one they have because it is not in their interests to do so. So if we leave the EU, our home market will shrink from 500 million consumers to 65 million and we won’t have a say over the rules of doing business across Europe, leaving all the power in the hands of our European competitors.
PN: Does being an EU member mean having limited powers?
SI: In Britain, we choose to co-operate with our neighbours in Europe because it makes us stronger, safer and better off. Nobody forces us to do this and the EU does not control us. We retain complete control of our currency, public spending, interest rates, crime and security policy, as well as public services such as healthcare and education.
The Prime Minister’s EU deal protects us from further integration in Europe. So it’s simply not true that Britain is “run by Brussels”, as many of those wanting us to leave like to say.
In the modern world, engaging in cooperative decision-making gives us more control, not less; it makes us stronger, not weaker; it gives us global power, not the illusion of sovereignty.
PN: Does the EU create too much regulation?
SI: EU regulation helps to protect important rights for workers and consumers. But the UK is still one of the least regulated economies among advanced countries. Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, has said the UK’s regulatory burden is already “remarkably low”. The developed economies’ think-tank, the OECD, says that the UK is the second-least regulated economy among developed states, and in the World Bank’s 2016 Ease of Doing Business rankings the UK comes sixth in the world, out of 189 countries.
EU membership has massively boosted the UK economy, and has not stopped us from being competitive, with relatively light regulation and a very low corporation tax rate.
PN: What is the pro-EU case for a unified approach to recycling and the environment?
SI: Inside the EU, we are part of the free trade single market of 500 million consumers right across Europe – and we have a say over the rules, including on waste and the environment. Being in the single market brings jobs and growth to the UK economy. Having common rules – that we help to make – ensures that other countries cannot undercut our countries by operating according to lower standards. If we left the EU, we would still have to meet its standards to trade with the single market, but we would have no say over the rules.
Official lead campaign: Vote Leave. Like Stronger In, it will be allowed to spend up to £7m during the campaign.
Who’s on their side?
The official campaign has also brought together figures from across the political spectrum. High profile ministers, including Michael Gove, are rubbing shoulders with backbench Tory and Labour MPs. Ex-London Mayor Boris Johnson and former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith have also backed ‘Brexit’.
The case against the EU
We quizzed Vote Leave, asking them to address a raft of issues from price rises to the Social Chapter.
Packaging News: Why should the UK leave the EU?
Vote Leave: Instead of sending £350m per week to Brussels, we will spend it on our priorities such as supporting business. We can take back control of our economy, our borders and our democracy.
We will end the supremacy of EU law and negotiate free trade deals with the rest of the world as well as the EU.
PN: How would such a move benefit the business community?
VL: Under EU rules, no matter what size a business is and whether or not it exports goods overseas, (only 6% of UK firms export to the EU and the EU has been a declining market for UK exporters over the past decade), it must comply with an increasing mountain of red tape. This strangles growth, drives up costs – currently over £600m every week – reduces productivity and makes it more difficult to create jobs. This heavy burden of EU regulation is particularly hard on smaller businesses.
We can take back control of business regulation – over 70% of Britain’s SMEs want the British government to take back control of employment law, health and safety and trade negotiations.
PN: Some readers have expressed concern that material prices will rise as a result of leaving the EU. How do you respond to those fears and will imports from the EU result in prices hikes?
VL: There is no reason for a material price hike as we will negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU. Even pro-EU bodies such as the CBI agree that we will. There is a free trade zone that stretches from Iceland to Turkey and it is ludicrous to suggest we won’t be part of this. Indeed, it is in the EU’s interests to continue to trade freely with us as the UK buys far more from the EU than they do from us. In fact, because we will be able to strike free trade deals with countries outside the EU it is likely that the material prices will lower.
PN: Does withdrawing from the EU pose a threat to workers’ rights? For instance, the UK would presumably no longer be required to implement the Social Chapter?
VL: We don’t have to give up control to EU politicians and unelected EU judges to protect working people. Indeed, UK law is often far more generous than EU law, such as on maternity pay and leave.
It is a myth to say that we must stay in the EU to protect workers. You only have to look at the high levels of unemployment in Greece, Spain, Portugal and the rest of the eurozone, to see that the EU is no friend of the worker. The safer choice for British workers is to Vote Leave on 23 June.
PN: Could a vote to leave the EU threaten the circular economy package that could make a huge difference to recycling rates and waste management?
VL: There is no reason why leaving the EU would impact the circular economy package. After we Vote Leave, we can take back control of recycling and waste management regulation to ensure it suits the needs of UK businesses and consumers.
The UK government admits that EU rules on the disposal of business waste places a significant burden on SMEs. The time and administrative cost spent on doing this is disproportionate for SMEs. The packaging industry would benefit from leaving the EU.
What the industry says
If there is a vote to leave the EU then it will create uncertainty and the economic environment doesn’t like uncertainty. The short term impact for the economy will be downwards; in the long term we do not know.
Most of our business is in the UK or international, so the EU is not a particularly big market for us. Some EU markets are fairly protectionist. Uncertainty is a problem, in or out, so let’s just get it over with and move on.
Caldicot Metal Decorating
It could affect our business and uncertainty of any sort is always unwelcome. However, whatever the outcome I’m sure we will continue to trade in Europe. For us, a vote to stay in the EU is better for our company.
The biggest single issue now
is the exchange rate, with the debate affecting confidence in sterling. As for the future, we know what the EU is like but nobody has articulated fully what life outside would be like.
Owner and director,
I’m not a great believer in big is beautiful and trying to get 28 countries to agree a common way forward on anything is very, very challenging. But we do not like the uncertainty affecting the currency.
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