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When I recently asserted that Britain leaving the EU would result in many multinationals withdrawing their European headquarters from the UK, a British person of Greek origin claimed that the UK would be fine on its own. It would be better off without burdensome EU regulations enforced by a cabal, he said, and the UK is such an innovative country, companies would want to base themselves here whatever our European status.
Given the treatment of Greece by the European institutions recently, I suppose this view is not surprising. There have been many complaints in the UK too about too much European regulation. Often though, as in the case of an EU standard on the amount of noise a lawnmower can emit, these regulations were actually promoted by British officials because they benefited British manufacturers. For manufacturers in general, the comfort in setting up a factory anywhere in the EU is that by meeting these standards, their products will be approved to sell anywhere in the 28 countries of the EU.
If the UK were to leave the EU, it would no longer be able to influence these regulations, and yet would have to abide by them if it wanted to sell its products in its closest and biggest market. Fortunately, for British people like me who are pro-European, the new leader of the opposition Labour Party has just said that he would campaign to stay in the European Union in the forthcoming referendum (likely next year).
There had been some doubt about this, because it is assumed that the Prime Minister David Cameron, in his negotiations with the EU member states, is trying to weaken the social charter of the European Union, which has brought about protection for employees in terms of working time, holidays, discrimination, etc. The Labour Party, as you can tell by the name, is strongly committed to supporting the rights of working people, so has decided to campaign for staying in the European Union, regardless of the deal Cameron reaches, by committing to reverse any social concessions gained, should Labour get back into power.
One of the key non-negotiables for the core European states such as France or Germany – which actually is one of the main reasons many British citizens oppose the European Union – is the free movement of people. To me, this is why the UK is as innovative as it is. There is plenty of evidence that diversity encourages innovation and London is without doubt one of the most diverse cities in Europe. If you locate your company in the London area, you can access an extraordinary range of nationalities, viewpoints and skills, all with English as the common language.
Unfortunately the current refugee crisis is weakening this commitment to the free movement of people and could even bring about the end of the European Union entirely. Instead of coming up with a coordinated solution, member countries are behaving like they have not remembered the lessons of the two World Wars we are currently commemorating.
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