Clive Watson, chairman and co-founder of City Pub Company, tells MCA why he believes the sector and the wider UK is better off staying in Europe.
On June 23rd we come to a crossroads. Do we remain in Europe? Or do we go in another direction? If we remain we know what we have signed up to. We have access to a single market consisting of 28 countries and over 500 million people, which allows for the freedom of goods, services, investment and people across Europe.
If we leave the European Union these freedoms will undoubtedly be restricted. We do not know to what extent because the Brexit camp has given no detail on what type of trade deals they would sign up to. They have now told us that they will impose a points-style system on European citizens working in the UK. Clearly any restrictions we impose will be reciprocated by the remaining 27 countries that make up the European Union making it more difficult for us when travelling across Europe. Ironically, even in the latest figures, there is more immigration from non-EU countries such as India and China than there is from the European Union.
Forty-four per cent of our exports go to the single market and, in addition, the EU has trade deals with another 50 countries. It has recently concluded trade deals with South Korea and Canada and it is aiming to finalise a trade deal with the US by the end of this year. Australia and the EU have already started negotiations, which they hope to conclude by the end of 2017. Once these deals are finalised their market will account for over 80% of our exports. Having access to these markets allows Britain to sell its goods and services throughout the world.
If we leave, all of these trade deals will have to be re-negotiated. It would only take one European country to put a spanner in the works and we could be locked out for years.
Over the last two and a half centuries Britain has moved from being an agrarian economy to an industrial one, and now very much a service economy. British families spend £198 billion on food alone - whether this is in shops, restaurants or cafes. Forty per cent of our food is imported and much of it through the European supply chain. DEFRA has recently published data stating that if we leave the EU the cost of our food will go up by 11%. Yes this is a subjective number, but there is consensus by economists that food prices will increase if we leave the EU. I also mentioned the services sector - which accounts for 80% of our economy. The UK has an annual net surplus in services of £22 billion a year with the EU. As an economy, by trading with the European Union, we have created a smaller farming sector and a larger services sector - offering more highly skilled jobs.
The Brexit camp have no plan A, let alone a plan B or C. If we leave the European Union how long would it take them to achieve consensus on the deals that we would need to construct, before they even begin to renegotiate with the EU and the other 50 countries?
Our membership of the EU is not just about the economics. It is about the shared values that we have with our European trading partners. I give the example of the European Union’s Social Chapter which introduced the maximum 48-hour working week and resulted in a dramatic improvement in the working lives of employees in our sector – many of whom were expected to work a 70 hour week. It brought in the same rights for part time workers as for full time workers and it improved holiday entitlement. It gave women equality in the workplace and strengthened their rights against social discrimination. The Social Chapter protected the rights of pregnant women and extended paid maternity leave from six weeks to 26. The Social Chapter introduced TUPE, which protected employee’s rights when another owner acquired the pubs that they worked in. It brought in Health and Safety legislation that improved the working conditions of employees. All of these rights and more were a result of the values promoted by the European Union Social Chapter.
These rights and conditions were opposed tooth and nail by the Brexiteers who were on the wrong side of the argument then, just as they are now. If we leave the European Union the Brexiteeers will pick off these rights and conditions in the name of a flexible labour market.
I believe in a free market which allows Companies in our sector to grow – I have grown a number of startups during my career in the industry – but free enterprise has to be linked with rights and conditions for employees in our sector who work unsociable hours. The case to staying in the EU should be about the rights for employees – the businessmen who preach Brexit will roll back these rights and return us to an unregulated free market economy where the winner takes all creating division in our country.
The European Union Social Chapter introduced social justice for employees in a free market economy. If we stay IN we need to build on these rights and help align the interests of shareholders/pub owners with the interests of their employees. We need to improve training and productivity, and have a better understanding of our employee’s career aspirations within our industry. If we can achieve this we will have a better skilled labour force improving the standards in our pubs, restaurants and hotels.
If we leave the EU we jeopardise so much. We leave the single market of over 500 million people. We leave our allies in Europe who are so important to us for promoting security as part of our membership of NATO. It is the EU that implements trade sanctions and restrictive movement of nationals from countries that threaten our security such as Russia and Iran. The Brexiteers cannot even tell us their vision for a Britain outside the European Union and I believe this is because they are hopelessly divided as to the way forward. It is easy to be negative but if you do believe that we should leave Europe at least let us know your blueprint for the future.
Leaving Europe will not just be a leap into the dark – it would be a shambles creating unnecessary uncertainty, economic decline, poorer public services, isolation from our allies and worst of all the return of the Brexiteers in charge. Nigel Farage, John Redwood, George Calloway, Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith – really?!