In the European Parliament, I sit on a committee that works to reduce barriers to trade and safeguards consumer interests across the continent. Every time the internal market and consumer protection committee meets, I am reminded of the importance of the European single market.
As a member of the single market, we benefit from laws and court judgments that outlaw discrimination in the workplace, we have vital rights for workers on holiday pay, maternity and paternity leave and the right to join a trade union, our natural environment is protected from pollution, and our workers are kept safe through stringent health and safety requirements.
I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which argues that the single market provides a “legal guarantee that workers in the UK are protected by the same level of rights as those found in the EU”.
There is no left-wing argument for leaving the single market.
When Labour signed up to the European Social Chapter in 1997, we did so to stop a race to the bottom, where bad firms can undercut the good employers, and where all workers are protected.
Tory Brexiteers hate the single market because it protects the workers of this country from their own extreme views.
When over-powerful right-wing governments have stamped all over the rights we fought for – whether in tackling injustices perpetrated by Tory governments, or the trade union rights we all enjoy – time and time again we have taken on the Tories with the help of our friends in Europe.
We have fought them before, and won, and we must do so again. That’s why I have helped to establish the new campaign group, Scottish Labour for the Single Market, along with Ian Murray MP and Kezia Dugdale MSP.
We will work hand-in-hand with the existing Labour Campaign for the Single Market and other pro-EU groups in the weeks and months ahead. The campaign exists to protect jobs, oppose austerity and defend the rights of workers and consumers.
We believe the situation and rights of EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in the other 27 member states, must remain a priority in the Brexit talks. It is unacceptable that millions of people throughout Britain and across the EU are still waiting for clarity on their future status and rights.
I watch on with horror while Tory MPs in the House of Commons continue to push for a hard Brexit.
But the Labour Party can stop them, with support from other opposition parties and the few Tory MPs courageous enough to stand up to Theresa May. That’s why it’s imperative for the Labour Party to back permanent UK membership of the European single market and the customs union.
Jeremy Corbyn’s recent speech, advocating a customs union with the EU, shows that our party’s position is evolving. In the weeks ahead, we need to continue to evolve until we reach a point whereby we are doing everything in our power to protect the people we represent.
This is not, as some have ridiculously claimed, about ‘factions’ within Labour. This is about protecting workers and consumers from the Tories, and that’s why Labour must do all it can to keep the UK in the Single Market.
Catherine Stihler is Labour MEP for Scotland.
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