EU stops us re-nationalising the Railways

As we approach the end of Labour’s leadership contest one of the most interesting things about the last few weeks has been the resurgence of policy ideas that many had thought Labour had confined to the rubbish bin.

Take the nationalisation of the railways. When Ed Miliband was the leader of our party, efforts to put immediate renationalisation in the manifesto were thwarted. One year on, and both Andy Burnham and Jeremy Corbyn have promised to renationalise Britain’s railway network. The debate has certainly shifted left, but could either Andy or Jeremy deliver on such a promise? I’m not so sure, as neither candidate have said how they would address the big obstacle that their promise faces: the European Union.

Undoubtedly EU law will be a huge obstacle to any renationalisation scheme – especially one that aims to do away with competition and markets. The EU is clear that its objective is “Opening up national freight and passenger markets to cross-border competition”. Its directives and regulations have created what can only be described as a legal quagmire.

The main EU law in this area was the First Railway Directive (which was replaced and upgraded in 2012 with a new version). This was the original law that gave the Tories the excuse they needed to introduce their privatisation agenda in the nineties. That law enshrined the role of the private sector by making it a legal requirement for independent companies to be able to apply for non-discriminatory track access on a member state’s track, calling for:

“separating [of] the management of railway operation and infrastructure from the provision of railway transport services, separation of accounts being compulsory and organizational or institutional separation being optional.”

The 2012 Directive has kept that principle and goes even further, and says that one of its aims is “to boost competition in railway service management”. It also stipulates that: “Greater integration of the Union transport sector is an essential element of the completion of the internal market… The efficiency of the railway system should be improved, in order to integrate it into a competitive market”.

In short, this means that multiple train operating companies must be allowed to use the same track competitively. In Germany it has resulted in the state-owned Deutsche Bahn facing more and more competition from other firms.

Provisions like this mean that, under Prime Minister Burnham or Prime Minister Corbyn, there would be huge legal obstacles in the way of renationalising the railways. How will any effort to block private operators be compatible with EU competition law, for example?

Some claim that “European rules do not dictate that railways must be fully privatised” – note the interesting use of the word “fully”. It’s true that UK law has gone further than the EU law currently requires, but it is also true that the EU would prevent a nationalisation agenda from going as far as many would like.

This is a problem that is only going to get worse with time. The EU is likely to pass even more laws in this area. Since 1991 the EU has introduced three railway packages, which have imposed numerous legal requirements on the member states. A fourth package is on its way – which will further open up domestic passenger services to competition. All of these laws limit a UK Government’s freedom of action and will bind the hands of a future Labour Government.

It would be hyperbole to say that all efforts to renationalise the railways would be blocked by the EU, but it would be equally naïve to dismiss the problem. The facts are simple: the EU creates real legal problems for any nationalisation agenda and will bind the hands of a future Labour Government that attempts to deliver on such a manifesto policy. Honest politics demands detail: before they can give renationalisation a green light, we need to know exactly how the candidates plan to get the EU-shaped elephant off the tracks.

This article was first published by the New Statesman on 26 August 2015.

Labour’s lost voters will return if we leave the EU

In 1975, when the last EU referendum was held, about 80% of Conservative voters were in favour of the UK staying in what was then the Common Market, while the Labour Party split roughly 50:50 for staying in and coming out. Now the situation is largely reversed. It is the Labour Party which is far more Europhile than the Conservatives, a factor clearly reflected in the attitude of all the current Labour leadership candidates. Jeremy Corbyn has wobbled towards a degree of Euroscepticism but all of them now advocate a “yes” vote in the forthcoming referendum, apparently irrespective of what comes out of the current round of negotiations. Does this make sense either for the Labour Party or the country – or even for those who passionately want us to stay in?

Clearly, which way the referendum goes is going to make a huge difference to our future, yet the Labour Party seems to have developed no policy stance on the forthcoming referendum other than to decide not to vote against it being held. The Party says it is in favour of a “reformed EU” but has put forward practically no suggestions about what needs to be changed. This is surely irrational as well as bad politics, not least because, if you scratch below the surface, there are plenty of changes which most left of centre people would like to see accomplished.

Who among them is in favour of the huge net payment across the exchanges which has to be made by the UK to the EU every year – a total of £11.4bn in 2014 and set to rise substantially in future? Who really thinks it is a good idea to turn away Indian programmers and Chinese students from coming to the UK, but to let in 40,000 or more people a year from Rumania and Bulgaria to compete with the less advantaged of our indigenous labour force? How may Labour members are in favour of the Common Agricultural or the Common Fisheries Policies? How many are happy with the way he EU is run, especially the way the Greeks have been treated by the Germans? How many are satisfied that if we are the only major EU Member State outside the Single Currency that our interests are going to be fully protected? The fact is that there is a large left of centre agenda for change but the Labour Party is not putting it forward.

This can’t be doing the Party’s relationship with many of its lost voters any good, particularly those who decamped to UKIP. There is a large majority of the electorate which would like to stay in the EU on the back of major reforms but a much tighter outcome looms if there is little or no change. The unqualified enthusiasm for our EU membership exhibited by many Labour MPs and Party members is simply not reflected among most of the electorate. Nor are voters likely to be impressed by Labour making no effort to remedy what many people thinks are deficiencies in our EU terms of membership.

Potential Labour supporters are likely to be even less happy about Labour’s current stance when they perceive that it weakens the government’s ability to get changes made, as surely will be the case. The more it appears to the powers that be in Brussels that the outcome of the referendum is going to be a “yes” vote irrespective of any concessions they make, the less likely it is that any of them will be inclined to go ahead with the difficult negotiations required to change the UK’s relationship with the other Member States. The more tempting, too, it will be for the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask for the minimum that seems likely to be required to enable them to claim enough of a victory to persuade the UK electorate not to vote “no”. By not making any effort to stiffen and support where appropriate the government’s negotiating stance, Labour makes it more likely that we will be left substantially with the status quo.

And this is where the major miscalculation may be being made by those who advocate staying in before they even know what the revised terms of membership might be. These are febrile times and there is a very real danger to those who want to keep the UK in the EU at any cost that renegotiation which turns out to be a sham could very easily generate an anti-Westminster, anti-authority backlash which will produce exactly the opposite from the result they want. Support for our EU membership is not that strong in the UK and it would not take that much to overturn the relatively small margin of support there is currently for our continuing membership.

This is why even those in the Labour Party most committed to the UK staying in the EU when the forthcoming referendum takes place need to realise that Labour badly needs a reform agenda. Of course, this will not be exactly the same as the one favoured by Conservatives. Much of Labour’s support for the EU derives from the Social Chapter and Labour is not going to support watering down employment protection and many of the social advances for which our EU membership has been largely responsible. But there is a lot of common ground where Labour could support the government’s stance.

If Labour largely advocates our continuing EU membership irrespective of any changes that might be made, with nothing reflecting the widely held concerns about some aspects of our relationship with other Member States, the result is more likely – not less likely – to be a “no” vote when the time comes. It is high time that Labour’s uncritical Europhiles realise that this is what is at stake.

This article was first published by CapX on 27 August 2015.

Listen to voters hostile to the EU

Most people in the Labour Party may want to stay in the EU, but few think there is no scope to improve the way the EU operates or our terms of membership. Why, then, does Labour appear to have no policy towards the renegotiation that is taking place?

What would Labour like to change – given the opportunity to do so? Actually, there is quite a long agenda. Are we happy with net annual payments to the EU now running at about £15bn a year? Is it sensible to turn away Indian programmers and Chinese students while we acquiesce in having over 40,000 extra Bulgarians and Romanians moving to the UK each year? Are we happy with the way the EU is run? Are there adequate safeguards to protect our position if the Eurozone countries all move towards monetary, fiscal and political union while we stay outside the Single Currency?

There is also an important electoral dimension. Some Labour Party people appear to think that it’s not worth trying to change our terms of membership, but this is not a view shared by the vast majority of the electorate. It is not held, for example, by the millions of voters who have decamped to UKIP, whom Labour badly needs to get back.

Those most keen on our staying in the EU might also ponder whether campaigning to stay in on whatever terms is most likely to achieve the ‘Yes’ result they want. The less David Cameron and George Osborne bring back from their current round of negotiations, the more probable it is that there will be an anti-establishment revolt when the referendum comes, resulting in a ‘No’ vote.

Further, the less pressure there is for change from the Labour Party, the more likely it is that Brussels will offer minimum concessions. Why should EU politicians go through all the hassle of agreeing to revise the UK’s terms of membership if the perception is that we are going to stay in whatever happens?

None of this is an argument against voting to stay in when the vote takes place. Instead, it is an argument for Labour – and the new leader, whoever that may be – to campaign vigorously for changes that most people, inside and outside the Party, would like to see made. In my view, this is what is best for the country and the Labour Party.

We may not get everything we want, but those who don’t ask, don’t get – and mishandling the whole renegotiation process, to which Labour seems to be in danger of contributing, could lead to us leaving the EU altogether, and that’s the last thing that most Labour members and MPs say they want.

This article was first published on the Spectator Coffee House blog on 28 August 2015.

EU environmental policy deeply flawed

Environmental Policy

Labour Leave believes that the Labour Party needs to advocate reforms of the European Union that best suit the United Kingdom. If these reforms cannot be achieved then we believe the Labour Party should be prepared to campaign to leave the EU.

The challenge of climate change affects all nations around the world. The only way to tackle the threat of global warming is through global cooperation. There is no reason why the United Kingdom could not continue to co-operate with the European Union on environmental policies whilst being outside of the EU. Outside of the constraints of the European Union, the United Kingdom could pursue even more rigorous environmental policies that are currently in place. The United Kingdom could ensure even stronger measures are followed enabling the UK government to combat climate change more effectively than it does as a member of the EU.

The Labour Party has long been a champion of combating Climate Change. The last Labour government led the world championing environmentalism and was very successful in delivering change nationally and internationally.

The EU claims to be a global leader in combating climate change. While efforts have been made by the EU in this regard the evidence suggests the EU is far from being a global leader. In fact, by ignoring UK advice and objections, EU environmental policy has been flawed, cost jobs and not helped the environment.
Reforms we need. The renegotiation provides an opportunity to fundamentally examine our relationship with the European Union. While areas such as migration, taxation and democracy receive considerable attention, areas such as environmental policy are often not as prominent in the debate. So what environmental reforms could Labour advocate?

1) Labour should seek an affirmation that the European Union will genuinely work with other international bodies and states to reduce carbon emissions. While emissions in Europe have reduced, thus far, the European Union has not been effective in encouraging partners in driving down global emissions.
2) As a member of the United Nations, the United Kingdom is actively involved in the UNFCCC playing a global role in combating climate change.

If reforms cannot be achieved then the Labour Party needs to examine whether or not our existing relationship with the European Union is appropriate. Could better environmental policies be pursued outside the European Union?

The UK outside the European Union

• Outside of the European Union the United Kingdom would remain a member of all key international environmental bodies, including the Council of Europe, United Nations, World Trade Organisation, International Maritime Organization and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
• The UK could continue to take part in the EU’s environmental programmes. The European Commission has arrangements for working with third countries to tackle climate change and the UK could operate under that partnership arrangement. The UK as a member of the Council of Europe would be free to enter into dialogue with the EU on areas of common environmental interest. One area where continued cooperation would be very likely is under the EU Emissions Trading System.
• Outside of the European Union, the United Kingdom would be free to remove any environmental policies that may place unnecessary burdens on business and the public sector. This will enable British governments to combat climate change whilst ensuring local businesses don’t close down and create unemployment. Alternatively the UK would be free to introduce extra environmental regulations to further restrict damage to the environment.

• The government’s Review of Competences stated, “There are now few aspects of the environment within the member states which are not the subject of EU controls.” Outside the EU, the British government would regain control over environmental competences.

Leaving the European Union would not mean that vast swathes of environmental legislation would be repealed and environmental protections would be diminished. There is no political appetite in the UK for such radical changes to existing legislation and existing policy. The main political parties are committed to combating the threat of climate change and in tackling carbon emissions.
The EU claims to be a global leader in combating climate change. But, is this assessment really accurate?

The European Union and its Green credentials

• At the 2009 Copenhagen Summit the EU failed to agree a common line that satisfied all member states. This was in part due to EU expansion which included member states who were unconvinced of the arguments for constraining emissions. As a consequence, the EU as a whole ended up being side-lined during the negotiations.
• The EU has failed to encourage other countries to reduce carbon emissions. Carbon emissions in other parts of the world have actually increased including the EU’s main trading partners.
• In 2013, Canada blocked the EU’s entry as an observer on the Artic Council following the EU’s campaign against the seal trade. In contrast, the UK is active in discussions over the Artic including cooperation in polar research.


The United Kingdom has often led the world in combating climate change. The last Labour government was particularly successful in this endeavour. The consensus in British politics means that the climate change agenda will be prevalent for many years to come.
If we cannot achieve a significant renegotiation which changes our relationship to secure a better deal, then the Labour Party should be prepared to campaign to leave. The UK outside of the EU will not result in reduced environmental protections; on the contrary they could be enhanced.
There is no reason why environmental policy cannot be determined at the national level in cooperation with the EU and other governments across the world. Under a reformed relationship or outside of the EU, the UK would be better placed to protect the environment. Future Labour governments could embark on radical programmes of environmental reforms that would ensure the UK remains competitive, outward looking and conscious of the need to protect the environment.

John Mills (Campaign Secretary) and Brendan Chilton (Director)

D Cameron’s top advisors “worked for the EU”

New research by the Labour Leave campaign has found that half of the PM’s EU negotiation team accepted a “duty of loyalty” to the EU which raises serious questions about whether they will push to get a good deal for the UK. David Cameron’s Chief of Staff Ed Llewellyn and Special Advisor Daniel Korski both worked for the EU. This means that:

Both Llewellyn and Korski accepted a ‘duty of loyalty’ to the EU,requiring them to conduct themselves in the interests of the Union.
Even though both Llewellyn and Korski have since left their roles in the Commission, their obligations to the EU are not superseded by their duty of loyalty to the Crown.
Any failure – whether ‘intentional or negligent’ – by Llewellyn or Korski to comply with their continuing obligations to the EU makes them ‘liable to disciplinary action’.
They are legally obliged to keep potentially useful information about the EU from the Prime Minister.
Not only must they seek approval from the EU before disclosing information on the work of the Union, but both could be subject to financial penalties should they breach their duties to the EU.
Labour Leave Co-Chairman Kelvin Hopkins said:

“I am hugely worried that Cameron’s closest Tory advisers owe an oath of loyalty to the EU. People will ask whether they are actually trying to negotiate a deal that will benefit Britain at all?

“I want to see an end to the supremacy of EU law in the UK – so that we can take control back from EU judges and bureaucrats. Instead of giving £350 million a week to the EU I would like us to spend it on our priorities, like the NHS.

“These Tories’ duties to the EU will mean that won’t happen. What’s worse, it could lead them to develop a neo-liberal EU plan to unravel important rights for workers here in the UK. That’s why we need to Vote Leave in the EU referendum and take back control.”

Join Labour LEAVE today

Welcome to the Labour Leave website and our Campaign Blog. Labour Leave is a new organisation that has been established to campaign for real reforms in the UK’s renegotiation and subsequent referendum on our membership of the European Union.

I have been campaigning for better terms of membership in our relationship with the Common Market and now the European Union for 40 years, so I am delighted to be supporting this campaign and playing an active role as its Secretary.

The Labour Party needs to examine seriously its policy towards the European Union. During the general election Labour lost voters to UKIP because it did not have a comprehensive policy that resonated with the electorate. Labour’s arguments against a referendum did not stack up against the Tories who were offering the British people a choice for the future. Now is the time to change our offer.

Many Labour voters and Labour supporters want to see a change in our relationship with the European Union. The British people want to see better terms for the United Kingdom, and they voted overwhelmingly at the general election for parties offering to try to get changes made.

British business wants to see a more competitive Europe, focussed on jobs, growth and trade. From my experience in the business world, I know all too well the burdens that unnecessary EU regulations place on businesses in the UK and across the EU. We need to unleash the talent of our entrepreneurs and remove barriers that the Commission has placed on business, hindering growth and job creation.

I am pleased that Labour Leave already has the support of Labour Members of Parliament, Councillors and Peers, as well as ordinary Party members. I hope more Labour supporters and activists will sign up and support Labour Leave as we move towards the referendum campaign.

Labour Leave exists to provide a space for the Labour movement to debate our membership of the European Union and to push for reforms that we believe are needed in a reformed Europe. We must challenge the Tory approach to reform of the EU and counter it with our own vision. We must also be prepared to consider leaving the European Union if we cannot achieve the change we need and the public wants.

So please get involved and contribute to the debate. If you have ideas or areas you think we should be looking at then please let us know. Sign up to our campaign to receive our regular bulletins and for campaign news. I, and the Labour Leave team look forward to hearing from you and campaigning in the coming months.

John Mills

Labour Leave Secretary