I wanted to write to share my thoughts on the upcoming EU referendum and to make the case for why I think Britain is much better off in the EU than outside. I have been contacted by a number of my constituents recently who are concerned that the Labour party have been too quiet on this issue so I wanted to make sure it was very clear where the Labour Party and I stand.
I say this whilst accepting that the EU is far from perfect. People feel let down by politics and there is a growing sentiment amongst people from all backgrounds and regions that things here in Britain are broken and no-one knows how to fix them. It is easy in these circumstances to find someone or something to blame for our problems. The Brexit campaign are taking full advantage of this. They blame the EU for our economic problems, for migration, for being too bureaucratic, even for dictating the size and shape of our vegetables! They talk of ‘cutting EU red tape’ but what does this actually mean? It means watering down our employment law and cutting back people’s rights at work. One of the fundamental reasons the Labour Party are in favour of remaining in the EU is for the protection it gives to workers’ rights.
Fundamentally we have no idea how a Britain outside the EU would work. What we do know is that it will be a long, distracting, messy and complicated process that will have a profound impact on our standing in the world and our internal make-up. Brexiteers talk about leaving the EU but keeping all the parts we like about it. However this will only happen by negotiation. Their faith in the on-going good will of the EU if we leave reminds me of people I’ve known getting a divorce. They start out claiming that they’re going to be different and for them it’s going to be fine because they will stay friends. Six months later, no-one will talk to one another and the relationship is damaged beyond repair. Britain, and the EU itself, cannot afford for this to be the case.
There is a strong economic argument to be made in favour of continued British membership. In fact, economically Britain needs the EU much more than the EU needs Britain. Whether you look at British exports, 48% of which (by far the largest share) go to Europe, the three million British jobs which depend on demand from Europe or the £450 billion in foreign investments that come from mainland Europe, the picture is clear. Any argument that says we could keep this or that we do not need European markets sorely misunderstands our economic reliance on the EU. In addition to this there is strong evidence that our membership of the EU itself means that for many companies we are the gateway to Europe and their investment has helped Britain become a much more dynamic economy. Another principal reason why the Labour Party are united in favour of remaining in the European Union is because of our concerns over what will happen to jobs and investment if we leave.
However, I understand that many people feel that these benefits are not felt on an everyday human level. UK public services are under increasing pressure as a result of six years of Tory austerity. The problems facing our public services are a direct result of the Tory’s failed economic plan and not, as the Brexiteers would have us believe, the fault of the EU. Migration has helped keep our public services afloat in these difficult times – more than 100,000 EU migrants work in our NHS and one in five carers looking after the UK’s aging population have come to Britain from the EU and elsewhere. We recognise that migration can put pressure on local communities and services, which is why Labour supports a Migrant Impact Fund to help manage and mitigate the short term impacts of migration on local communities. The issue of migration and how much money we pay to the EU has been grossly exaggerated by the Brexit campaign who have numbers on the sides of their buses which even they admit is a lie but they won’t take down. EU migrants are net contributors to our economy. They pay more in tax than they take out in benefits. However the government need to be doing more to ensure that these extra tax benefits are put back into the communities where populations are increasing. Labour is very mindful of the threat of economic recession caused by the shock of leaving the EU, which would have a knock on effect on our country’s ability to invest in vital public services.
Fundamentally the EU offers us a level of security that we will be unable to achieve acting alone. Our voice in the world is amplified by our membership of the EU and working with our friends helps keep us safe. We bring more to the table as a member of the EU than we would outside – the EU helps us promote our values and human rights across the world, strengthens our position in NATO and bolsters our negotiating power with other countries such as the US. If we leave now we will give up our seat at the table where decisions, that will still ultimately affect us, are being made. If we value our position in the world and want to have any say over our future we cannot afford to leave this seat empty. As Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary I have recently made a speech and written an article about how the EU and NATO are two sides of the same coin. You can read my article here.
The Remain camp and I are asking that people consider what kind of future they want for our country? Shall we take up an antiquated, aloof position separate from our neighbours or should we embrace our leadership role within Europe and lead from within? Our interdependent world requires collective decision making and global actors. By retreating into ourselves, harping after an old idea about our national identity and our ‘separateness’ from Europe, we will not help Britain weather the current crises facing the world – illegal migration, climate change, international terrorism, cyber-security. We need the EU and they need us; we should embrace this role and take up our position as one of the key players in Europe, leading from within rather than dragging ourselves out to face the storm alone.