How a one-size-fits-all EU regulation caused one person to vote Leave

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June 30, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith

Port of Antwerp

The other day I met a lady who used to work as a civil servant for the Department of Transport. She had a French husband. She voted to Leave the EU.

The final straw, she said, was a seemingly esoteric piece of legislation called the EU Ports Services Regulation. It was a piece of regulation that had been handed down to national government by the European Commission and she was asked to implement it in Britain.

The trouble was, from the start she could see it was inappropriate for Britain or at least our particular ports. So she began to ask questions, but was met by a shrug of the shoulders from her seniors and eventually her political masters. Eventually pointed towards the European Commission from whence the directive came, she tried to find someone to answer her questions about how the regulation could be applied to British ports without hurting them, but no-one would answer any questions.

So, the EU Ports Services Regulation was adopted in March 2016 and came into force in March 2017. As Daniel Hannan explains in his book ‘Why Vote Leave’, it threatens the viability of Britain’s ports, not from malice but simply because it is impossible to apply a one-size-fits-all policy to such a heterodox continent.

British ports are private, profitable and plentiful. Smaller than their Continental counterparts, dotted more thickly along our coasts, they don’t rely on state aid, instead generating a healthy surplus for the Treasury and sustaining some 100,000 jobs. Continental ports tend to be sparser, larger, and generally state-owned and grant-dependent. Due to Geography, they are less likely to compete with one another.

So the European Commission has moved a regulation requiring them to introduce a measure of internal competition – to contract out their mooring, dredging, unloading, bunkering and so on to rival providers.

There may be a case for more competition within gigantic ports like Rotterdam and Antwerp – more diversity might lead to more efficiency and lower costs. But no such argument applies in the thriving, competitive market in the UK. Obligatory internal competition would wreck their economies of scale and deter investment as once a company wins a contract for port services they generally commit to major infrastructure costs like cranes, terminal facilities and the like. The Port Services Regulation could kill such investment.

All the British port operators and trade unions oppose the idea. You also won’t find a single Commission official who thinks the regulation will benefit Britain – it was never intended to apply to small ports outside the state sector. It is an example of where Brussels rules are not designed with British needs in mind, and Britain can be outvoted on matters where she has a vital national interest.

Ports isn’t the only place this has happened. Art dealers, cheesemakers, temping agencies, slaughtermen, fund managers, trawlermen, steel workers, cider producers; all have suffered from EU rules designed to suit someone else. Plenty of sectors in other EU states have suffered similarly from regulations that took no account of their conditions.

Which brings me back to the lady I spoke to. She said that she voted Leave because she felt that a British Government voted in by British people to implement British laws and rules and regulations would not have forced such an inappropriate directive as the EU Ports Services Regulation upon itself.

A ‘supra-national’ organisation with rules and regulations that apply to all members and are superior to any rules and regulations voted for by national Parliaments will get things wrong. When that happens, there is little recourse. That, to many, is not democracy. Like I have said, there were many reasons to vote Leave, and this was one of them.

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