As the day of the referendum draws nearer, we are sure to get bombarded with people complaining that faceless bureaucrats are forcing hundreds of rules and regulations on the UK against our will. There have, in the past, been suggestions that other countries are deliberately trying to “do us down” in some sort of underhanded way. Actually, most of the EU thinks of us as being like a badly behaved child. You know, the one that insists on joining in everyone else’s game and then constantly cheats and wants to change the rules.
Those of you that were around in the late 80’s may remember there was a fuss about our beaches. Because we discharged a lot of raw sewage into the sea, some were not as clean as they ought to be. The rest of Europe had been doing much the same thing, but brought in some rules and regulations to measure the cleanliness of the beaches and determine which were safe to swim in. None of this was secret, and the rest of Europe started to clean up their act before it all came into force. The UK, essentially, did nothing.
All of a sudden, it dawned on people that many of our best beaches would be classified as “unsafe”. I think they may have been obliged to display a red flag, although I may be wrong about that. Even Bournemouth, as I recall, was one of the threatened ones. This would have obviously had a significant impact on the holiday trade.
I do remember the newspaper headlines at the time. Faceless Eurocrats were demanding that we stop swimming at the seaside. How dare they! Maggie Thatcher went into bat and succeeded in stopping all that nonsense. It was spun in the press as a significant victory for her and an example of how we in the UK were fighting the European Behemoth.
I was working in Holland at the time, and discussed it with my colleagues. Their attitude was simple. They were amazed that we would actually want to swim in raw sewage but, if we really wanted to, we should probably go ahead. They thought we were daft, and probably deserved any illnesses we got as a result.
What actually happened was that we were allowed a few years grace to get our house in order. The privatised water companies had to bear the cost of upgrading the sewage treatment processes, and we now have beaches that are as safe as the rest of Europe.
It’s pretty much the same with much of the other regulation that comes out of the EU. Health and Safety, for example. We all get upset about some of the nonsense details, but surely no-one can deny that the principle is a good one. It’s just that we take the interpretation of it to extremes. And it’s wrongly used by many as an excuse to avoid doing things, or stop others doing things, that are perfectly reasonable.
Another set of rules concerns the hours that lorry, coach and minibus drivers are allowed to work. Of course, if you’d rather allow sleepy coach drivers to career up the M1, I’d rather you didn’t do it when I’m anywhere near. Our Government courageously fought to make sure that Doctors weren’t covered by the Working Hours Directive. I’m so pleased we did that. It means that doctors can treat me when they can hardly stand up with fatigue. It’s necessary because we don’t have enough doctors, and are unwilling to pay for more even if we did have them. Perhaps we should go to coach drivers for emergency medical treatment - at least they’d be awake! But that’s another story.