Boris's free trade agenda for Europe could be a social and environmental disaster for London and the rest of the UK.
Jenny Jones AM is leader of the Green Party on the London Assembly and Green Party Mayoral candidate for 2012
The Mayor of London’s rather unpleasant comments about slothful workers in his Telegraph column conceal his much more worrying position on Europe. He wants to see “a pared-down relationship based on free trade and cooperation”, so that “we would no longer be forced to accept the vast corpus of EU regulation and legislation – much of it too detailed and interfering – that has added to the costs of British business”.
He has also said that he would want us to leave the Union if we didn’t win a relationship on his terms.
I’d better say immediately that although the Green Party’s view of the EU is that it needs reform and it’s more likely that can be achieved that from within, I personally would vote to leave, believing the EU to be too expensive and too complex to reform. However, I love the EU social and environmental legislation that has helped so many people out of poverty and helped slow down the depredation of our planet.
However, the Mayor hasn’t set out what he would like this new relationship to look like. The Single Market would ensure some social and environmental regulations would need to remain, such as public procurement and product standards. But would the Mayor also want to renegotiate the Single Market, or gain opt-outs?
One important example is the Capital Requirements Directive IV. It doesn’t sound very exciting, but this Single Market regulation will bring in the cap on bankers’ bonuses and rules to make our banking system more stable.
The Mayor has been lobbying against this agenda. His chief economic adviser and his deputy Mayor for business and Enterprise both have close links to the City, and his previous economics policy director went on to head up the British Bankers Association. On behalf of London’s banking establishment, the Mayor has been lobbying the European Commission and the British government to drop the bankers’ bonus cap, and to avoid putting stability before “growth and dynamism in the industry”.
The Mayor also opposed the European proposals for a Financial Transaction Tax, which could have stabilised the banking system and raised billions from the City to invest in London’s real economy.
So I doubt we will get the grip we need on London’s banking establishment under the Mayor’s pared-down relationship with Europe.
The TUC has warned that this pared-down relationship could also see a significant loss of workers’ rights. It is hard to build a decent quality of life with a job that takes up more than 48 hours a week, doesn’t guarantee paid holidays and lacks decent health and safety protections.
Europe is also the source of environmental protections like the Air Quality Directive, which required the UK government to reduce dangerous air pollution to safer levels. Air pollution comes in various forms, but just one form alone – tiny particulates – causes around 4,000 preventable deaths a year in London, according to research commissioned by the Mayor. It’s the second biggest cause of early death after smoking.
When I asked the Mayor if this was on his hit list in December last year, he wouldn’t say. But the Mayor and the government have failed to comply with the directive, and the Mayor joined with eleven other cities around Europe in lobbying for more flexible (i.e. weaker) protections.
His free trade agenda for Europe could be a social and environmental disaster for London and even the rest of the UK.
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