When thinking about the Labour Party’s view towards Europe, most people would say that the party is quite firmly in the ‘remain’ camp. Yet there are some within the party who vehemently want to leave, and they’ve formed a campaign group: Labour Leave.
One of the co-chairs of Labour Leave is Kate Hoey, the MP for Vauxhall. A veteran of the Commons, she is notable for the many times that she has rebelled against her own party, particularly on issues such as fox hunting. It’s the EU, however, that is dominating the headlines, and as my phone call to the politician from Northern Ireland began, I knew what would be the dominant topic of conversation.
After the obligatory formalities, Hoey plunged straight into the issue at hand. “Labour Leave was really set up to try and get the debate going within the Labour party on the question of our relationship with the European Union, originally because we wanted the leadership candidates and the leadership of the party to say what they wanted in reforms”, she told me. “We’re working with the trade unions against the EU – mainly started by the RMT Union which has always been very opposed to membership – but we’re getting more support now from other trade unions and trade unionists.”
“We’re working with the trade unions against the EU”
This last point is an interesting one. If we go back to the 70s and early 80s, the Labour Party were far more Eurosceptic than their Conservative counterparts. Some of the trade unions, including the RMT as she stated, haven’t changed from that position, despite the movement of the majority of the party to a position that is much more in favour of European Union membership.
Moving on, Hoey says that “fundamental change” would be needed to convince her that it was worthwhile to stay in the EU, but she is unimpressed with the efforts of the Prime Minister, describing the reforms that he targeted as “basically tinkering”. It’s something of a disappointment to the Vauxhall MP, who added “Our economic situation is in such a strong position that the EU needs us more than we need them, and therefore they should be bending over backwards really to actually get reforms that would give David Cameron something to take back and put to the country”.
Hoey decided to show further her optimism for a UK outside of the EU, saying “I don’t have a negative feeling about our competence as a country. We are actually beginning to trade now more outside the EU than inside it, that’s changed over the past years”. This sets up a new direction for our conversation, as we move onto the British economy. There have been many surveys that seem to point towards companies making plans to relocate jobs to the continent in the event of Brexit, yet Hoey doesn’t find them too concerning, pointing out that “some of the big companies have said that it wouldn’t make any difference to them now whatsoever”. In fact, with the background of the Eurozone troubles, she believes that any economic reasoning for staying in the EU is “just not a credible argument”.
We moved on to another major criticism of the EU that is mooted by those who want to leave: that the EU is an anti-democratic organisation. The former Minister for Sport is quick to slam the European Commission, which are appointed rather than elected: “They have the complete power to start new laws, new directives, and we can’t get rid of them.” The criticism goes further, adding an ideological side to the debate when she argues that “as far as the left is concerned, it has become an organisation now that is much more in line with the multinationals”. Hoey pushes this idea further. “What it did in Greece was quite horrendous in that it actually, as part of the austerity dealings and giving them certain amounts of money, they actually dropped collective bargaining”, Hoey remarked. To certain eyes, this is indicative of the nature of the EU, and a further blow to arguments that it is democratic. If the governments are not doing what they want,” she adds, “they find ways using this machinery of finance in particular to change that.”
“We are actually beginning to trade now more outside the EU than inside it, that’s changed over the past years”
This risk of the EU’s expansion into national sovereignty worries the Eurosceptic MP, who says “they don’t like nation-states, which is why they’ve got an EU flag now, an EU anthem – they’re looking to have a European Union army”. Whilst this may sound almost like conspiracy theory, some Eurosceptics do believe that the ultimate aim of the EU is to create a ‘United States of Europe’, and the ambiguous meaning of the words “ever closer union”, deeply entrenched into the EU’s key treaties, only serves to further their concern.
Of course, many people have postulated that Brexit would serve only to break up another union – the United Kingdom – as Scotland may demand a second independence referendum. During the campaign for Scottish independence, the no campaign repeatedly brought up the threat of Scotland not being admitted to the EU. Hoey doesn’t believe that any calls for a referendum would be justified, as “they’ll use any excuse to get a referendum”, before going even further and adding “it wouldn’t trigger a referendum even if a majority in Scotland voted to stay – because we are one country, whether they like it or not”. Still, Hoey is confident, saying that she “would be surprised if the Scottish electorate would vote very differently” in the EU referendum, and that “there is now an SNP group, within the SNP who want to leave […] the Scottish National Party isn’t nearly as united on this issue as their leadership try to portray.”
“The Scottish National Party isn’t nearly as united on this issue as their leadership try to portray”
Speaking of leadership, there had been much media speculation that Hoey had been asked to lead a ‘leave’ campaign, and I steered us onto this topic. She’s quick to jump in, saying “I don’t think we need a figurehead leader”. The leave campaign attracts people from many political positions, and Hoey thinks that it “will win this referendum because there are people from all political viewpoints who have different reasons […] why they want to leave”. She added that, in her view, the referendum is “going to be the establishment against people, and I think the establishment are going to get a bit of a shock”.
With that, our conversation drew towards a close. With the uncertainty still surrounding this referendum, it will be certainly worth watching the impact that Kate Hoey, and the arguments that she presents will have on the future of our relationship with the EU.