To some in the UK, Europe smells good; the single market, free trade and inward investment are all worth savouring. To others the EU reeks of bureaucracy, regulations and unwanted immigration, plain and simple.
Is the UK heading for a divorce from the European Union? At this juncture, the polls are too close to call.
But the possibility does exist.
It means the United Kingdom would no longer be part of the 28-country block. That is England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland breaking away from Europe. But many in Scotland have already said that should the UK exit Europe, Scotland would seek its independence and try to re-integrate in the EU.
Hence the question mark over Scotland’s future.
Would leaving the EU mean renouncing the single market? Renegotiating trade agreements with other European countries? What about European workers living in the UK, would they need permits? Would they have to go home?
Truth be told, nobody knows at this stage. It could take up to two years to negotiate the terms of an exit.
In this edition, “Insiders” went to Scotland and Wales to take the pulse of Brexiters and Bremainers – that is those who want to leave and those who want to remain in the EU.
Highland games, low politics
Should we stay or should we go? The Scottish answer to the Brexit question sounds very particular.
Our road trip started at Gordon Castle up in the North of Scotland. It is quite a special day: people from all over Moray gather on the greens. Thousands enjoy the Gordon Castle Highland Games. It is THE event of the year here around: Scottish fun and fierce fighting in competitions ranging from throwing a heavy stone and hammer to tough tug-of-war contests.
“The Brits are fighting: half of them want to stay in Europe, the other half wants to get out. It’s a suspense-packed battle and I’ve got the feeling that the vote of the Scots could be decisive. I’ll ask around a bit,” reports euronews’ Hans Von Der Brelie.
Sixty to 75 percent of the Scots are in favour of staying in the European Union, such as the members of a local folk group called “Footerin’ Aboot”.
“Definitely, I do think that Scotland doesn’t want to leave the EU. The majority of English people vote for conservative parties and want to leave the EU. So if the United Kingdom does leave there will be a bit of tension and Scotland will back out of the United Kingdom as well. If we leave the EU we will leave the UK as well,” says violinist Amber Thornley.
We move on to Macduff, a small port town in decline. Most fishermen are angry at the European Union. For decades their number has decreased. Lot of young people left Macduff and many children grow up in poverty. But Ross Cassie blames the UK government for the decline, saying the region was neglected by London – and helped by Europe. Ross is member of the Scottish National Party, a left-wing, pro-independent and rigorously pro-European party – by far the main political force in Scotland.
“The local impact here within Macduff, the impact of the funding from the European Union is plain to see: the slipway you see behind me was, years ago, partly EU funded. – If the UK decided it wanted to pull out of the European Union, those particular schemes of funding will no longer be available – and towns like Macduff and other small communities across Scotland will continue to decline as opposed to flourish as they should do,” says Aberdeenshire councillor Ross Cassie.
Taking the purse strings from London
People in Macduff have plans for deepening the harbour. This could back the local ship-repair-industry, create jobs and make a real change. They do not believe that the UK government will hand over the needed millions for structural change. But Europe could.
“I would say the people of Scotland would be quite rightly angered if they were dragged out of the European Union against their will by the rest of the United Kingdom. That would consequently lead – obviously – to further conversations being had within Scotland about our place within the United Kingdom,” claims Cassie.
Good for business, good for Scotland
The Highlands are the very heart of Scotland. It is a landscape spotted with historic castles and distilleries, highly romantic and a notable tourist destination.
John Harvey McDonough’s family history is closely linked to whisky production since 1770. John learned all about whisky trading by settling down in China where he lived for 20 years. A few years ago he came back to his beloved homeland. Like many entrepreneurs, he is the CEO of Speyside Distillers Company, John is against leaving the European Union.
“We have a huge business. We have maybe 80 percent of our business going to China, Taiwan and China. We have a growing market in Europe and North America so we have a huge market to go for – and our market is the world. It is the world, and the European Union is very important and part of that,” he says.
Thanks to European free-trade agreements export-oriented companies, (such as distilleries), sell their products more easily – thereby generating benefits and jobs. That is the main argument of David Frost – a former British diplomat and EU trade negotiator, who today is head of the Scotch Whisky Association.
“About 40 percent of what we export goes to Europe. If we leave the European Union then we are going to see administrative barriers brought up. If there is a BREXIT we will lose access to the European Union Free Trade Agreements, that is clear. If the UK then will need to renegotiate its own agreements, clearly that is going to take time. Our interest is to be part of the biggest possible market with the fewest possible barriers. The European single market gives us that. The European free trade agreements gives us that. Why we would want to depart from that?” says Frost.
Helping EUrase the past
Rats and violence – until a few years ago that was everyday’s reality in this part of Glasgow – called “The Gorbals”. Already by the late 19th century this over-populated area became known as a dangerous slum. Urbanisation projects in the 60s and 70s failed to bring a change.
Today the high-risers are demolished one by one. Rubble is all that remains of “Norfolk Court”, a 24-storey building blown up just a few days ago.
Today’s concept for social housing housing is completely different: high-quality buildings, secured courtyards and enough space to play and meet neighbours.
Cathrin and Michael invite us in: they have four children on a modest income. They remember the problems of the recent past.
“You can not have 200 families in one building and when your children grow up in a building with around them a culture of drugs and alcohol and gang fights it is too easy for them to become involved in that,” sighs Cathrin.
“It is far more beneficial: European Union money helps fund the regeneration of this area, so I mean that’s only a good thing,” agrees Michael.
The right side of history
Cathrin has a grand-father from Belgium, one great-grandfather from France, and another from Germany. Somehow the family also has some Irish roots. So what does Cathrin think about Europe, especially as it seems to have found its way into the heart of her family?
“We do not see ourselves just as Scottish because we were born in Scotland – we are European. That makes me very proud to be European.”
Michael Kelly, a resident of the Gorbals all his life, agrees.
“I think it would be rather foolish for the UK to exit from the European Union.”
Many Scots are convinced: Europe bears ordinary working class people in mind; Europe shares, and Europe practices solidarity.
The European Investment Bank has announced it is investing a further one billion pounds into social housing in the UK, or 1.3 billion euros. This could fund 20,000 new homes.
“Well, a huge help has been the money from the European Investment Bank because it is stable finance for half the usual interest rates. It saved us an awful lot of money. There is an expressed link between Europe’s determination to support poorer communities and what we do and the money that we get from institutions like the European Investment Bank. There is an absolutely clear link, and hopefully that will be maintained, because without it I do not know from where we could get that kind of finance in the future,” says the boss of the New Gorbals Housing Association Fraser Stewart.
Games without frontiers…for now
Euronews ends its roadtrip where we started it, at the Highland Games in Gordon Castle, way up north. It is time for the “caber toss”, or throwing tree trunks. The future of Europe lies in the hands of the Scots: they could swing the UK’s “Brexit” vote. What could be a better illustration of the modern Europe of free movement and neutered nationalism? The winner of the competition and now officially Scotland’s strongest man was Lukasz Wenta, from Poland.
Like Lukasz, 800,000 Poles live in the UK, by far the largest group of non-British European citizens. But they will not have a say on June 23rd, as foreigners cannot vote.
Into the valleys
Most Britons we met in South Wales, however, will go to the polls. Some believe that staying in Europe will save the already declining steel industry, once along with coal South Wales’ economic lifeblood. Pro-Brexit campaigners say EU regulations stifle the industry. Others surprised us by saying they would vote to leave only because they are angry with David Cameron’s Conservative government.
This camp claims London has done nothing to save the British steel industry, and intends to register a protest vote against the prime minister who happens to support continued EU membership. It is a complex issue, so euronews’ Valerie Gauriat went to investigate.
Last chance saloon for Welsh industry
South Wales, like many traditional European centres of heavy industry, has suffered in the last 30 years as plants have closed and jobs have been lost. In some cases EU development funds have stopped the bleeding, and steelmakers in particular struggle to keep market share faced with cheap Asian imports some say Europe does little to prevent. Will a Brexit spell boom or bust for this threatened industry?
London does not listen
Save British Steel!
This is what a few hundred steelworkers gathered in London came to ask the government recently.
A month earlier, the Indian group Tata Steel announced its intention to sell or close all of its loss-making production sites in Britain, threatening some 15,000 jobs.
“The steel industry in the UK is at a crossroads. We could end up with steel making stopping in the UK. We’re here to make sure that doesn’t happen,” says the Unite trade union’s Mark Turner.
“We’ve been asking for help for a long period of time now and it’s fallen on deaf ears. We have had promises but they haven’t come to fruition. Now is the time to act, now is the time to go forward,” says steelworker Steve Davies.
When a company town’s company crashes
To be or not to be part of the European Union ? Can it change anything to secure the future of British steelworkers? We came to ask them in Port Talbot, their stronghold in South Wales.
Thousands of jobs throughout the region depend on this giant plant. This is where we meet Steve again.
He started as an apprentice at the steelworks 37 years ago; his parents were employed there, his son works there today.
“There’s a lot of other people who had 4,5,6 generations within the company. Without Port Talbot steelworks, there’s no Port Talbot. The knock-on effect will be catastrophic, businesses will go bankrupt. It’s not just the steelworks, it’s the lorry industry, the corner shop, newspaper shops, hairdressers. It’s not just the little picture of the steelworks, it’s the whole picture we’ve got to be looking at and saving.
We do need to stay in the EU. We’re looking for potential buyers. And I think that it’s very important for them that they know that we’ve got that foothold in Europe as well,” says Steve.
From boom to bust and back again
There’s the rub. This industry along with coal made South Wales a global industrial powerhouse in the 19th century, leading to a rise in organised labour, making the region one of the birthplaces of trade unionism, and spawning several generations of leading Labour politicians. Conservative governments have not been in much of a hurry to help a region that does not vote for them.
But fortunately at times there has been an alternative to Westminster; Brussels. Hit by the fall of the mining industry in the 80s, and the closure of steel plants at the start of the century, Wales is one of the regions which benefits the most from European Structural Funds.
Support that in the eyes of many, does not lift the uncertainties over the economic future of the region.
Many here are sceptical of the European stance of a government which they say has done nothing to support the British steel industry.
Blame Brussels or lambast London?
Vote Leave campaigners told us that 70% of the local population would vote for a Brexit. So we went to check this out at a steelworkers’ café.
Few are willing to speak out publicly. Off camera, opinions are divided, and supporters of Brexit who do talk to us are mostly driven by their anger against the Cameron government.
“The government are not doing anything for us. It’s constantly against us. So we just need to stand up now and say enough is enough. Let’s vote out of Europe and stand on our own two feet. We’ve got to look at where the money is coming to in the UK. As long as we can save money in the UK, and not give to the European union, at this moment in time, we need to get Britain back on track and back on its own two feet,” says garage owner Paul David Smith.
Indian-owned Tata Steel is the second-largest steel producer in Europe, where it exports more than 40 percent of its products.
For this economist, a Brexit would not kill the industry but could deprive it of its main outlets.
“I think it’s going to be a steel industry of some sort in the UK, whether we remain in or out of the EU. The question is if the economy will be growing quicker, and as a result we are likely to have a more successful industry if we remain in the EU. Many firms in this part of the world, whether Sony or other companies, multinationals, many came to this part of the world because of the EU. If we leave the EU, we’re likely to see inward investment into Wales fall, and inward investment not just in steel, but in the car industry, etc,” says David Blackaby.
We meet Vote Leave activists in the city centre.
Whether it concerns the rules on competition, state aid, public procurement, or the lack of anti-dumping measures, they say EU regulations only hamper the steel industry.
“Up the road now they’re building a new windfarm with Chinese steel because they went out to procurement laws. We couldn’t demand that we use the steel made here in Port Talbot, it’s only a few miles away. There’s business rates as well. We couldn’t reduce the business rates on the steel on the simple basis it’s against the EU state aid law. We couldn’t make an unfair bias towards one of our own steelworks. So if we left the European Union we could reduce business rates, we could start using our own steel on our own developments, whatever it be, rail, windfarms, mining. There’s lots of benefits if we leave the European Union to save our steelworks,” says UKIP member Llyr Powell.
“The biggest problem is the EU business regulations, especially things such as energy regulations that have had a hugely detrimental effect on all energy intensive industries. We can’t employ any anti- dumping measures without the consent of the commission or the EU because it’s an exclusive competency of the European union. Outside of the EU we would be able to refer to the World Trade Organisation rules which would allow us to levy much higher tariffs, like they’ve done in America to protect their industry,” says Vote Leave’s Welsh regional assistant Morgan Brobyn.
Of tariffs and trade
The United States imposes tariffs of 236% on Chinese steel imports, against 20% in the European Union.
Brussels wants to raise that threshold, but the British government is the one most opposed to it, points out the constituency’s Labour MP. A Brexit would cost the British economy dearly he says.
“If you come out of the European Union, you then have to start trying to agree what the trading relationship looks like. Are we in the Single Market, are we not? If we’re not, what kind of tariffs do we have to pay? What sort of tariffs do we have to pay on steel? What sort of tariffs do we have to pay for example on every car that we export, which is a major part of what the Port Talbot steel works produces. Most of their customers are in the automotive industry. You’ve got a situation where in my opinion it would be the killer blow,” said Aberavon MP Stephen Kinnock.
Scott Bamsey is the youngest union representative at the Port Talbot steelworks.
His family has worked in the industry for generations.
Like many, their views on the European Union are mitigated. But a Brexit they say, would be too risky.
“If we are out of Europe we have no say in what they do in Europe. So I think we need to stay in Europe and fight to block the Chinese dumping,” says Scott.
“We need to be in the European market, we don’t want to be scratching out at finding other markets, in Asia, America, Canada,” says father Peter, now retired.
“Pulling out of Europe would just pull so many unknowns. It’s safer where we are. Obviously we’d have to strike new trading deals and it would just make a complicated situation even worse. So I think to stay in would be the best option for us, and the steel industry,” adds Scott.