By Pam Kenworthy OBE.
EU Referendum – a chance to continue the benefits of EU membership.
On a balmy June day in 1975, aged 18 ¼, I went to do my democratic duty for the very first time. I felt very important as I entered a small, dimly lit shop in Cheshire. I gave details of my name and address to two rather austere looking individuals and then voted to stay in the EEC (also known as the Common Market) along with 17,378,580 other people across the country.
My reason for voting to stay in was all related to “big picture stuff”. My mum taught history and was very influential in explaining the benefits of trading rather than fighting wars and after 70 years of sustainable peace in Europe for 520 million people, there is no doubt in my mind that she was right.
So 41 years later on the 23rd June, where am I to put my cross now? What are the issues that I need to consider to make up my mind?
There seems to be very little debate these days about the “peace dividend” which so exercised my mother and no doubt many others of her generation who went through a world war. There is however much attention being paid to border control & immigration driven in my view by the rise of UKIP as a political force. I actually think that the diversity of this country is one of the things that makes it such a good place to live and as my son works for a German company and my daughter works very closely with French wine producers, I can see that traffic doesn’t go just one way and we might well end up locking ourselves in, rather than locking others out. The expectation of young people is that the world is their oyster and we really should not be fettering such ambition.
And what about economics? Are our businesses better in or better out? Well the answer seems to depend on who you listen to, so I suspect that the position is fairly evenly balanced. Despite this, I am definitely swayed by the argument that you get a better deal if you are at the table able to communicate and negotiate than if you are not. I do know however that living in the north, post Thatcher, I saw devastated communities being reinvigorated & reborn through European Community funding and the UK still receives £66m every day from other EU countries which all feeds into national prosperity.
On the whole, the polls seem to be indicating that British citizens feel antagonistic towards the EU. As a consequence Mr Cameron has been out and about seeing European leaders and working on a “new settlement” for the UK in Europe which he hopes will persuade us all to remain. To be honest, his four big issues of in work benefits, recognition of currencies other that the euro, reduction in regulation and less political integration don’t really stir my soul when it comes to staying.
No, I want to stay in because I have personally benefited from being a part of Europe in ways that people are not often aware of. These benefits are not just limited to easy travel between countries waving my EU passport as I go. Or that the single aviation area gives airlines freedom to fly across Europe bringing down flight prices with it and thus facilitating all the wonderful travel opportunities that my family and I have enjoyed. Or the convenience of only having to use one currency whilst skipping across borders.
It’s not because I can get compensation if my holiday plans go awry or that mobile phone roaming charges are to be reduced so that I can phone home whenever I want because I am part of Europe.
The fact is that European legislation (often castigated by Euro sceptics) has improved the quality of my life and provides a platform for a better work/life balance for everyone. It has guaranteed me equal pay with men, paid holidays, paid maternity leave, flexible working, parental leave and now that I am old(er) freedom from discrimination.
Junior doctors are striking over contractual hours, yet the Working Time Regulations (also from Europe) prevent excessive working without agreement.
These are rights that I would not have if the UK was outside Europe and which could be taken away if we leave. I want these rights, which are so taken for granted, preserving for my children and their children too. Hands up who wants to give up paid holidays!
I can see that the Brussels bureaucracy could work better, but then you can say that about Westminster too, but being part of a family of nations that has its heart the fundamental desire to improve the lives of everyone, has to be worth keeping and fighting for, but with words of persuasion, not guns!
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Pam Kenworthy OBE qualified as a solicitor in 1982 and was awarded an OBE for services to Legal Aid in 2014. She worked at Thompsons the trade union practice specialising in personal injury and discrimination law and also taught and lectured in employment law at both Sheffield universities and Sheffield College. On returning to legal practice Pam became a partner in regional law firm Howells in 1994 and from 2007 headed up their publicly funded telephone advice services (Community Legal Advice). She now runs her own legal services consultancy.