Peter Oborne, writing in the Daily Mail, is correct to criticise Gordon Brown’s apparent commitment to “British jobs for British workers”, but he is wrong to say that “our membership of the European Union means there is nothing that a British government can do to protect British jobs.”
For where do British jobs come from? They come from a prosperous economy, with customers both at home and abroad willing and able to pay for the goods and services those British jobs produce. There is no surer way to reduce the spending power of domestic consumers by cutting them off from the international trading economy, and as soon as we impose restrictions on the activities of foreign companies, they will impose restrictions on our own.
The idea that there is a fixed amount of work to be done and that offering jobs to foreigners necessarily reduces the number of jobs for local workers is known as the lump of labour fallacy. It is generally discredited by economists, except in the lingering world of Peter Oborne. (Why are conservatives now advocating government intervention and protectionism?)
In the modern world, our economic health rises and falls with that of our trading partners, the major ones of which happen to be our closest neighbours in Europe. If we want to preserve British jobs for British workers, or even any kind of job for any kind of worker, international cooperation to overcome the recession and relaunch economic growth will be necessary. Our membership of the European Union makes us more able to do this, not less.