Why oh why, does Vote Leave seem unable to put up a single relevant factual argument? Perhaps we all know the answer. But you would think a Government Minister could make a better fist of explaining her case than Priti Patel did on the radio this morning. It wasn’t altogether easy to understand her argument, such was the torrent of words and lack of concrete examples, mixed with a couple of preposterous statements that I suspect even her fellow cabinet outers would not support, but her contention seems to be this.
British small business – an important part of the economy – is being held back by EU regulations. Were these to be abandoned small business would leap forward unleashing prosperity for all. Big business can look after itself in Brussels but small business has few defenders and those few are constantly outvoted in the European Parliament and elsewhere.
Priti Patel, who is Employment Minister, denied that the removal of such regulations would make it any harder for small businesses to export to Europe and for good measure she also denied that the EU had played any part in developing the rights of workers. Such protections that workers have now have all been the result of the actions of the British Parliament, she asserted. An odd thing to say: if she doesn’t know the role of the EU in securing equal pay or maternity rights why should we believe she knows about small business?
She was pressed to identify which regulations were causing this terrible burden. I can’t remember the precise word she used but ‘endless’ would seem to fit the bill. There were so many that it was pointless to identify them all (though she did exclude those relating to Climate Change and the Working Time Directive). Others would be subject to an audit by a post Brexit government and would be scrapped or modified or replaced by 100 per cent British regulations dreamt up in her own department. Naturally there was no mention of the cost of this process, or who would be consulted, or the length of time this might take or what the results might be. Auditing every EU regulation that affected small business hardly seems a cost free option: it could even cost more than the money saved, meanwhile reducing protection for customers and the environment.
At last Ms Patel agreed that packaging would be one set of regulations to be examined, though it wasn’t clear whether the packaging included labelling and related to food as well as other substances. But a moment’s reflection suggests that regardless of the size of company, packaging and labelling have important implications for consumer safety. It must also be the case that the number of potentially hazardous substances or equipment is legion and therefore that the scope to change existing regulations would at best be marginal.
So this seems yet another example of thinking whose woolliness would not disgrace a mammoth. Uncosted and unthought through. Another illustration of why Brexit is not a cost free option.
Thanks to Peter Sain ley Berry a member of the SY2e – Remain in the EU alliance of groups