With a referendum on a Brexit from the European Union by the UK approaching, we asked members of the co-op movement for their views on how it would affect co-operatives. In this article, we hear from Gareth Thomas, chair of the Co-operative Party.
Gareth Thomas, chair of the Co-operative Party
The European Union is a powerful example of international co-operation. Membership of the EU is a recognition that by co-operating with other people we become stronger together.
Huge numbers of jobs in the UK depend on access to the world’s biggest market of 550 million customers – larger even than the US or Chinese markets.
Co-operating with other nations to create this trading bloc helps to give British businesses the opportunities to win contracts and create decent jobs not just in Europe, but also the strength to compete in difficult world markets. The EU is not merely a place for economic co-operation. European police forces co-operate together through Europol and measures such as the European Arrest Warrant to tackle global criminality like people smuggling, drug running or international terrorism. The EU also allows European countries to co-operate together to tackle climate change and support the world’s poorest countries confront poverty and hunger.
The EU has been a remarkable success in bringing the nations and peoples of Europe, however reluctantly on occasion, closer together to secure and maintain a largely peaceful continent. After the savagery of the last century’s two world wars that is a remarkable success for the value of co-operation.
It is far from perfect and there is still too little real understanding and sharing of co-operative business success stories. Co-operative and mutual banks, for example, have on occasion been damaged by EU rules designed to prevent traditional banks from failing. In the UK we could also better use the opportunities the EU provides to learn from successful co-operatives in other countries, such as HSB Riksforbund which manages half a million co-op homes in Sweden. But Britain outside the EU would be weaker. It would be subject to many of the EU’s rules without the ability to influence how they were created. Britain would be on the sidelines of too many of the big discussions about how to solve the big international challenges.
Co-operation works. It’s harder because success is never entirely clear cut and compromise is essential. But in the end, we’re stronger together and that’s why I’ll be voting to remain in the EU and to keep co-operating with our neighbours.
- You can find all of our Brexit and co-ops coverage here.