Victory at the ECJ shows Britain can still make its voice heard in the EU.
Show Hide image

Forget leaving - Britain does best at the heart of Europe

Victory at the European Court of Justice shows Britain's interests are best served fighting its corner in Europe, not sulking on the sidelines

This week, Britain won a historic legal battle in Europe when proposals that would have banned large-scale trading in euros from taking place outside the Eurozone were struck down by the EU's General Court. The proposals, put forward by the European Central Bank, would have forced UK firms handling large trades in euros to relocate to the eurozone, most likely to financial centres such as Paris or Frankfurt. With around 40 per cent of euro-denominated trading taking place in the UK, more than any other EU country, that would have had a dramatic impact on the British economy. Today's ruling will secure London's status as Europe's financial capital and uphold a level playing field for all countries in the EU's single market, whether they are inside or outside the eurozone.

It is also a powerful example of why the UK must remain in the EU if we are to properly defend our economic interests. Had the UK not been an EU member, we would not have been able to challenge this potentially damaging proposal and see it revoked. Those advocating EU exit have to explain how they would defend British interests by robbing the UK of its influence at Europe's top table. From the fight against climate change to financial regulation, decisions taken in Brussels will continue to profoundly affect the UK whether we remain in the EU or not. The truly patriotic approach is not to retreat to the side-lines, but to continue fighting our corner.

Some eurosceptics will point to deepening integration in the eurozone as a sign of why we must leave the EU. But if anything, today's ruling shows that the opposite is true. Now more than ever, the UK has to retain its influence in the EU and ensure that there is no discrimination in the single market between eurozone and non-eurozone members. More ambitiously, we have to make sure that the internal market is expanded and modernised to areas where the UK excels such as the digital economy, as outlined by Vince Cable last month. By setting a positive agenda for reform, Britain can lead in Europe and ensure the single market remains the EU's central and defining feature.


Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.