Labour MEPs warn Cameron: “Keep your hands off workers’ rights”

Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament, Glenis Willmott MEP, warned the prime minister not to touch workers’ rights in his EU renegotiations, in a speech to the 2015 Labour Party Conference today:

“Conference, it’s hard to believe it’s less than five months since the general election.

“I can’t remember an experience in all my years in politics that left me more devastated, than when the results rolled in on that dreadful night.

“I was devastated for all our activists and Labour party staff who worked so hard, knocking on doors, through wind, rain and shine.

“I was devastated for my good friend Ed Miliband, who I was proud to have worked with as leader of our party.

“And I was devastated for those people up and down the country who now face five years of an uncaring and vindictive Tory government.

“If they needed a Labour victory at the beginning of May they certainly need a strong Labour party today.

“We all have a responsibility, a responsibility to hold this government to account, and to fight for the young people of Britain who face an uncertain employment future.

“A responsibility to represent those families forced to rely on hand-outs from food-banks, whilst welfare for the poorest, continues to be cut and stigmatised.

“And a responsibility to protect working rights under threat from a government eager to strip back our hard won gains of the past decades.

“Conference, there’s another reason why we must all pull together under our new leader Jeremy Corbyn. This country is now facing the biggest political decision of a generation.

“And let me be clear. The biggest threat currently facing our country is the possibility of a vote to leave the EU. The decisions we make now will determine whether or not our children face a future of solidarity, fairness and prosperity or one of deep uncertainty and cold isolation.

“I’ve no doubt that this party must play a part in convincing the British people that we must remain in the European Union. And that risking a future on the fringes … would be a backward step from which Britain may never recover.

“I’ve heard some within our movement say the left should now campaign for Britain to quit the EU! That we should be fighting the EU elite, really?

“Conference there is an elite that threatens the wellbeing of British working people.

“But it lies much closer to home. The elite is alive and well, and living in Downing Street.

“Just, imagine the scene a day after the referendum if Britain votes to leave.

“Try and look past, the image of Nigel Farage’s smug face across every news bulletin up and down the country. Pint in one hand, waving the vees with the other!

“Yes, he will have been crowned the undisputed winner of the referendum. But the biggest winners will be all those Tories, who for years have been determined to turn this country into a neo-liberal, tax-free, wonderland. Just look at how this government has launched an all-out assault on trade unions over the past few weeks.

“Think what it would be like if we didn’t have the protections that the EU provides.

“Imagine what they could get away with. Imagine what a trade deal between the UK and the US would look like if it were negotiated by David Cameron alone?

“There would be none of the protections on public services and the environment that Labour MEPs are currently fighting hard to secure.

“Yes, Europe needs to change but that change can only come from within.

“No one can tell me that Britain will be a more progressive society if we leave.

“Would being outside the EU give us more rights at work? More freedom? More equality?

“Of course it wouldn’t!

“We are an internationalist party. We should be at the centre of European politics building a progressive Union. One that continues to set global standards, promotes human rights and values solidarity.

“Solidarity with the poorest including those Refugees forced to flee their homes to escape bloodshed and violence.

“And there is something else I want the Prime Minister to hear. I am warning you Mr Cameron, do not use, this re-negotiation to indulge the political fantasies of your Eurosceptic backbenchers. You are negotiating a deal for the entire country.

“For the nurse coming off the back of another gruelling 12 hour shift, for the unpaid intern working all hours and barely covering travel expenses, for the new mum struggling to juggle the demands, of caring for a family but knowing she can no longer afford time off work.

“These are the people you are negotiating for. Not Bill Cash, not the CBI.

“So, stop playing games. Stop the posturing.

“The message from this hall is clear, keep your hands off workers’ rights!

“Conference, our voice in this referendum must be clear, disciplined and positive.

“Let’s not allow the likes of UKIP to dominate the debate by spreading fear.

“They only seek to blame and divide. It’s the only way they know.

“Business will make its case as to why we should remain and it is a case worth hearing.

“Around three and a half million jobs.

“British families £3,000 better off a year.

“£350 billion a year invested in Britain by European companies.

“Arguments that are crucial for working people, but we also need emotion in our argument if we’re to win hearts as well as minds.

“We belong in Europe not purely out of economic convenience but because we hold and share the same beliefs.

“A belief in equality. It’s the EU that guarantees our working rights, and the EU that continues to bring equality legislation to this country.

“A belief in a fairer and sustainable economy. It’s the EU that delivered a cap on bankers’ bonuses and is leading the fight against climate change.

“And a belief in solidarity. The huge financial investment the EU made, and continues to make, in this country.

“Many of our great towns and cities were on their knees after years of Tory neglect and EU funding proved to be a vital lifeline.

“This referendum will be about two contrasting visions of our future.

“Those who want out, want a Britain without a Britain without employment rights, without equality, without public services.

“This battle isn’t about treaties, opt-outs or institutions.

“It’s a battle for Britain’s future as an outward looking, progressive country.

“Conference, it’s up to us the Labour Party.

“A party of fairness, equality and solidarity. Let’s make sure for the working people of Britain this is a battle we win.”