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From the flight deck: opposing views on EU Referendum

by Derek Suckling & Jon Horne British Airways

As we edge nearer to the EU Referendum on the 23rd June, we asked two pilots to provide their opposing views of the debate as part of a guest blog. Here, Derek Suckling, a British Airways Captain, and Jon Horne, also BA and Vice-President of the European Cockpit Association, give their personal opinions on whether to ‘Remain’ as part of the European Union or ‘Leave’.

Disclaimer: the views expressed by individuals in any article included on blog.balpa.org are not necessarily those of the Association. The messages in this article express only the personal views of the authors.

Captain Derek Suckling: Leave

Conceptually Europe should be a wonderful thing. More than twenty nation states working collaboratively for a greater good, ensuring peace and economic stability.

Why then is the European project and our continuing membership on such a knife edge, with Brexit appearing a very real outcome and one which I personally favour.

Firstly, consider the United States of Europe as many portray the EU “master plan”.  Why can Europe not aspire to achieve the same as the American model and become a Federation of nation states of Europe?

The first issue comes about because Europe is so completely disparate and does not share the common identity of our American cousins. Consequently when you try to push nations and cultures together in an ever tighter union they repel.

The EU itself has a fear. The UK is the first, but probably not the last, of the European nations to express a sense of frustration at Europe’s attempts to control and subvert national identity into a federal super-state.

In the US federal control exists but only at the oversight levels of law making. When states determine how they will run the majority of key decisions are conducted at exactly that local level. Europe follows no such model, with every aspect of life being governed and controlled by EU direction.

While Europe produces hundreds and even thousands of directives and instructions, the federal part of the US government leaves law makers in most areas of life to determine local consensus legislation.

The US is far from a perfect the model of course, but if only Europe could be convinced to follow a similar path it would allay many of the fears of the reluctant Brexiteer.

The Remain camp will tell us that economic Armageddon is inevitable as a result of a leave vote. In reality we should probably expect nothing more than a jolt and a soft landing as fiscal policy, under clear direction from our sovereign parliament, manages our problems expeditiously and directly.

The much-feared trade issues– we are, after all, a nation of shopkeepers– is also being used for scare purposes by Remain. Remember, for every job directly linked to European trade, five more are smothered by the burden of EU rules and regulations.

The Remain camp’s economic scaremongering assumes that overnight Europe ceases to trade with the world’s fifth largest economy. BMW, Mercedes, Siemens and Fiat are not going to allow their governments to close access to one of the growth economies on or near the continent of Europe.

The EU has failed miserably on trade outside of its borders. Eight years on TTIP could not be any more loaded to favour America had it been written by the US law makers themselves.

Any organisation that can write tens of pages, thousands of words, on the sale of cucumbers or the maximum curve of a banana must surely be discredited as one that has missed the entire point of its being.

In our own industry we have seen the perils of European interference. Our own well considered, tried and tested regulations package under CAP 371 torn up and replaced with a harmonised FTL scheme shoehorning in everyone’s viewpoint across the entire EASA spectrum of views.

The result? EASA FTLs are the camel of legislation output. Designed by committee, ignoring science and not fit for purpose. Unfortunately, whilst part of the grand design of Europe, we are stuck with them.
I’ll be voting Leave in the Referendum. The fear of the unknown can be parked. I prefer instead to look at the gaps in our knowledge as an opportunity, a blank sheet of paper if you like.

The UK became one of the world’s great powers, with far more influence than our headcount and footprint on the world deserves. The truth is we can do so again.  To do so we have to stand alone instead of being one voice lost inside the cacophony of noise that is the EU project.

Have confidence that we can shape our own path from the 24th of June and don’t fall into the “better the devil you know” trap that is the central plank of the Remain argument.

Captain Jon Horne: Remain

There’s a newspaper reading voter, a Tory-donor banker, and an immigrant sat around a table on which they have 12 delicious biscuits.

The banker glances to each side of him at the other two, reaches both arms forward and gathers 11 of the biscuits, scooping them towards him, and messily scoffs the lot.

Then he gestures at the immigrant, turns to the voter, and says “Watch out: he’s after your biscuit…”

For me, this joke just about sums up the present media debate about the EU referendum.

I fly the A320 for BA out of Heathrow, and I am also seconded by BALPA to be Vice-President of the European Cockpit Association (ECA), the body for all Europe’s pilot associations and unions, in which BALPA is a major player. As such I have some fairly direct day to day experience of the frustrations and opportunities we have through working within the EU. I will try and be absolutely straight, and frank about how I see it. No spin.

The EU, particularly in the institutions, has some big problems: its civil service, the EU Commission, is bureaucratic and clumsy; it is staffed in many areas by pro-globalisation, anti-regulation neo-liberals; the EU Parliament, the only democratic institution, has limited power – none to create legislation, and not much to stop bad ideas from the Commission; it is more costly and inefficient than it needs to be; EASA… well, you know that story already.

There are also some big benefits for all of us, benefits that frankly massively outweigh even those problems above.

The EU is not just the institutions, it is first and foremost the community of other member states. This community of states has the ultimate say, and it is on balance a fairly helpful one.

Without the EU we would not have most of our employment rights – certainly not under any Conservative government. There would be no paid leave, and nothing to prevent agency or posted workers doing our jobs for less.

We would have no paternity or maternity leave, no mass access to part time working, and no working time directive (including no 900 hour rule nowadays), as well as a host of other smaller and less well used rights to boot.

We would be entirely dependent on the UK’s Department for Transport executing what it thinks is UK government policy. So far this has included gagging the CAA in the recent EU FTL regime creation where with a free hand the CAA would have supported safer rules. It has meant pushing for full and open access for subsidised Gulf carriers. It has meant seeking a global de-regulated airline market at ICAO without safeguards for aircrew rights (let alone conditions) and where airlines can pick the state with the most convenient safety and fiscal regulations for making a quick buck – in short bringing the maritime Flags of Convenience system to aviation. What could possibly go wrong?

At present these retrograde policies are heavily moderated by our European neighbour states. But despite throwing our industry to the wolves, a Brexit would not even return power over the regulation and laws that govern it. Whether desirable or not, this is all but impossible.

I have seen no credible case from any ‘Leave” campaign that does not leave us as part of the European trading area in some form (because anything else decimates our economy). The reality is that in exchange for this essential market access, states must be subject to the same EU-set harmonised regulation that applies to the rest of the market – you get all the rules, but you don’t even get a say in them. Even if somehow cutting out the heart of our economy to ‘escape’ could be achieved, it is impossible for aviation to be part of that. The CAA has devolved so much responsibility to EASA, and gleefully shrunk its capabilities as it has done so, that it is incapable of regulating as a ‘full service’ independent regulator anymore – it simply doesn’t have the competence or resources.

Given that by the very nature of our business we are part of trans-national companies, now spread across many EU states, it is simply not possible for those companies to continue to function without being part of the European aviation area, even if we were to leave the EU. So all we would be doing would be stitching up our own mouths with regard to what those rules (that we still have to follow) are.

Finally, a few words on the pretty ridiculous wider political campaigns being run on either side of the Referendum. Particularly about their insulting basis in fear and exaggeration.

A bit like the institutions of the EU itself, this leaves us plenty to criticise, but we cannot let it obscure the reality of the two cases. This is not a referendum about immigration, and like the joke at the beginning, immigration is no more than a smokescreen, a conjurer’s trick – “look at this over here, look at it, isn’t it interesting, don’t take your eyes off it…” whilst in the other hand the real thing happens.

In this case, whilst people complain of multi-week waits for a GP appointment, no places in school classes, or police unable to deal with much of the crime reported to them, immigration is conveniently blamed. Because this is much more expedient for our politicians than us seeing the extent to which they have decimated our public services for ideological reasons in recent years. Look at the amount funding has been cut in real terms for frontline staff in these services versus the percentage increase in potential service users through immigration, and the real situation is clear.

At the same time, the ‘Remain’ camp has focussed on fear too. Fear of a tumbling economy, fear of damaging our security, and fear of change and the unknown. There is a positive case here too, and it is going unsaid.

The European Union has brought peace, stability and relative prosperity for the last 70 years against a history of war and upheaval every few decades. It has cemented this after we fought for it with British blood and sacrifice in two World Wars. Why on earth would we see that undone? It has brought influence on the world stage for dozens of otherwise small and inconsequential countries, such as this small island in the North Atlantic on the edge of the continental shelf. It has created a single economic area with the harmonised regulations that requires – and that has allowed our peripheral island to be part of an economic powerhouse. As our own national governments have flip-flopped, changed and become ever closer to the ultra-wealthy who control most of our businesses, it has in the long run protected the rights of us as citizens, as workers, as professionals, and as family members.

These are thoroughly worthwhile ideals; they are worth fighting to keep. And given the flaws in the EU I mentioned at the beginning, they are things with room for significant enhancement still. But only if we remain, with a strong voice, and work to reform and improve the, or perhaps I should say ‘our’, European Union.