Social boom or bust? The EU referendum and the fate of social rights

On 2 June we traveled to London for our event with UK civil society organisations to discuss an issue that has taken over in the UK of late: the EU referendum.

The UK’s momentous referendum on 23 June will decide once and for all whether the country will remain in the EU, or leave. The referendum follows the European Council’s adoption on 19 February of a “reform deal” for the UK, negotiated by Prime Minister David Cameron. The core elements of the new deal are: sovereignty; migrants and welfare benefits; economic governance and safeguarding interests of countries outside the Eurozone; and competitiveness.

The EU reform deal for the UK could have a detrimental impact on social rights in both the UK and the EU. If the UK votes to leave the EU there is a question mark over what will happen to social policies that the UK has signed up to, and what social policy agenda will be promoted. If the UK votes to remain the way is paved for discrimination in employment and access to benefits on account of nationality, in direct contravention of the EU Treaty. Regardless of whether the UK remains or leaves the EU, a precedent has been set for less convergence between EU Member States and discriminatory practices for questionable economic reasons.

Our round table style discussion was hosted  by Oonagh Aitken, President of our member Volonteurope, and aimed to give both the ‘remain’ and ‘leave’ camps an opportunity to explain why each feels it will offer people in the UK the best deal on social rights.

The ‘remain’ vote was represented by Jean Lambert (a Green Member of the European Parliament representing London), Roger Casale (Founder and CEO of New Europeans and a former Member of Parliament) and Nick Crook (Head of International Relations for UNISON). Speaking on behalf of the ‘leave’ vote was Nic Conner (a representative of the official Vote Leave campaign) and Kane Blackwell (a representative of and a Kent Youth County Councillor).

The ‘remain’ camp and participants raised concerns about what would happen to social rights if the UK votes to leave the EU; both the Prime Minister and the Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, Minister for Employment, have revealed that they would use Brexit as an opportunity to cut certain regulations that protect workers but are seen as burdensome for businesses. However, the ‘leave’ camp argued that the EU is not strong on social issues as the election of increasingly ‘right’ national governments and austerity measures pushed forward by the EU have had a detrimental impact on social rights.

One thing that participants agreed on was that civil society needs to step up to the plate and be vocal about social rights. If the ‘remain’ vote wins then we have an important role to play in rebuilding the bridge between the EU institutions and people living in the 28 Member States.

As the campaign gathers steam in its final weeks we will be keeping a close eye on developments and reminding people that the effects of the vote will go beyond the realms of trade, the economy, security and industry – the threat to social rights is very real. No matter the outcome of the referendum, Social Platform will stand strong alongside UK civil society organisations belonging to our European members. The event on 2 June provided us with a great opportunity to meet and learn about each other’s concerns, and this is something we will continue to do post-referendum.

More more information feel free to read our Director Pierre’s editorial about our event, and check out our event hashtag #SocialBoomOrBust on Twitter.