Brexit: What would leaving the EU mean for co-ops?

Following the announcement of the UK referendum in 23 June on whether Britain should remain in the European Union, what would a Brexit mean for co-operatives? The EU...

Following the announcement of the UK referendum in 23 June on whether Britain should remain in the European Union, what would a Brexit mean for co-operatives?

The EU developed after the Second World War to encourage economic and political co-operation. It is now a single market of 28 European countries, allowing goods and people to move around easily, with its own parliament and its own rules on everything from consumer rights and the environment to transport and mobile phone charges.

How would leaving the EU affect UK co-operatives? What are the positives and negatives for staying and leaving? And should we stay or leave?

coops uk logo“Co-operatives have a long history of internationalism, and while most co-operatives operate at a local and national level, there is strong collaboration that exists today across co-operatives in Europe,” says Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK.

“As on all big issues, it is vital that Co-operatives UK is guided by the views of its members on the question of the UK’s place in the European Union. To reach an informed and representative position we are analysing how co-operatives are affected by the European Union and the implications of either outcome for co-operatives, as well as gathering members’ opinions on the referendum decision.”

Retail is one area which could be significantly affected by changes to trade legislation if Britain was no longer part of the EU single market.

The Co-operative logo RGB[1]“As a business we value certainty – we need a Europe that focuses on job creation, growth and provides a single market that works for consumers,” said a spokesman for the Co-operative Group. “We would like to see an informed debate between now and when the referendum takes place.

Ultimately it is for the electorate of the UK to decide and we will remain committed to meeting the needs of our members and customers whatever the result of the vote.”

The housing sector is unsure if it would be substantially affected by a Brexit either way.

cch_0“The Confederation of Co-operative Housing’s position on the EU referendum is neutral,” says Nic Bliss, head of policy at CCH. “Housing is a function that is controlled by member states and the EU has little to do with it. At various stages there have been groups that have argued that this should not be the case and the CCH has periodically participated in EU debates on housing – particularly given that co-operative housing has a stronger presence in Europe than the UK.”

He adds that while there are some technical issues which affect housing, such as EU procurement processes for large contracts, by and large they do not apply to co-ops because they don’t reach the thresholds due to their smaller size – although some larger community-led housing organisations do.

“There are also some issues regarding the Human Rights Act,” says Mr Bliss. “I am aware of two particular legal cases where the human rights act was invoked in our sector – both in relation to actions that co-ops had taken for possession against a tenant.

“I would say that in both cases the human rights issues were additional veneers to what were already complex cases – and that they didn’t really make a lot of difference. But they did mean that the co-op’s solicitor/barrister had to give it some additional consideration.”

What about other sectors?

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