Walking away from the EU would be wrong, but it must be reformed

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In these European elections Labour is clear that walking away from our biggest market – the European Union – would be bad for our economy. We are much better placed to shape Europe’s future, fight for our national interest and back businesses and jobs if we are fully engaged rather than having one foot out of the door.

But, as I argued in a speech in Manchester last night, the status quo is not good enough. We need to see real change in Europe to respond to public concerns, deliver better value for money for taxpayers and secure rising prosperity.

Labour is setting out a clear agenda for reform to make the EU work better for Britain. First, we need the EU to be better focused on creating jobs and growth. A European commissioner focused on growth and an independent audit of the impact of any new piece of EU legislation on growth would be key to helping refocus the EU on this key task.

Second, our reforms will help ensure that EU citizens seeking work here contribute to our economy and society. As I argued four years ago, we should extend the period of time that people from new member states have to wait before being able to come to the United Kingdom to look for work.

We will work to stop the payment of benefits to those not resident in this country, consult on changing the rules on deporting someone who receives a custodial sentence shortly after arriving in the UK, and have called on the government to double the time that an EU migrant has to wait before being able to claim the basic jobseeker’s allowance.

And third, any agenda for change in Europe must also address people’s concerns about how power is exercised at a European level. So we have called for national parliaments to have a greater role in EU decision-making by being able to ‘red card’ any new EU legislation before it comes into force; for serious reform of the European commission.

We led the calls for a cut in the EU budget and reform of the common agricultural policy and have urged a zero-based review of spending on EU agencies to help ensure that any overlap, duplication or waste is addressed and tackled.

As Douglas Alexander has said, Labour does not support a drive towards an ‘ever-closer union’. We would hold an in-out referendum if there was a further transfer of powers – a prospect we believe is possible, but unlikely in the next parliament.

David Cameron’s arbitrary timetable for a referendum, which puts Tory party politics before the national economic interest, is creating huge uncertainty for business right now. Walking away from our EU membership would be reckless, foolish and deeply damaging. It would be anti-investment, anti-jobs and anti-business.

But we do need to see change in Europe and we must reform the European Union to make it work better for Britain. That is our message ahead of next week’s European elections and it is what a Labour government will deliver.

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Ed Balls MP is shadow chancellor of the exchequer

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Photo: Rock Cohen

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  • Glen Barnham

    Maybe that should have been said loud and clear to the country instead of the ridiculous party political broadcast having a go at Clegg. That was a distraction, and our message has not been focused and clear regarding the EU. There is still time?

  • Roy Steele

    ‘Anti-European scaremongering by Ukip and their Tory fellow travellers doesn’t just damage investment and society in Britain – if it goes on it could poison the atmosphere for +2m of our fellow countrymen in the rest of Europe’ [Lord Oakeshott Libdem peer, FT 2/14].
    We are joined at the hip to Europe whether we like it or not. Can you ever imaging the States USA ‘walking away’ from their next door neighbour the Canadians? Or Scotland ‘walking away’ from Britain? It would be plain folly to even consider ‘walking away’ from Europe and similar to other despots’ selfish, egomaniacal dreams of World domination [eg hitler and other psychotic maniacs down the ages] would inevitably lead to us Brits being isolated and banished from World affairs.
    So. What was the question again friend?

  • Anonymous

    We should run, not walk away, from the democratic entombment which is political union within the EU. The unanimous vote needed to change our status…to enable our government to regain control of the numbers coming into our country, for instance…simply will not happen. Leaving the EU and its grotesque federal ambitions may well provide the impetus for the major trading nations to follow suit. We joined a trade group, after all, as did they. That’s what we need to return to.

  • David Lindsay

    Ed Balls starts out ritually compliant, of course. But imagine the uproar if a Conservative Cabinet Minister said any of the following:

    “extend the period of time that people from new member states have to wait before being able to come to the United Kingdom to look for work”

    “stop the payment of benefits to those not resident in this country”

    “double the time that an EU migrant has to wait before being able to claim the basic jobseeker’s allowance”

    “national parliaments to have a greater role in EU decision-making by being able to ‘red card’ any new EU legislation before it comes into force [in other words, no EU law to come into force without the approval of a resolution of the House of Commons – blimey, beat that]”

    “We led the calls for a cut in the EU budget and reform of the common agricultural policy and have urged a zero-based review of spending on EU agencies”

    “As Douglas Alexander has said, Labour does not support a drive towards an ‘ever-closer union’.”

    “a further transfer of powers – a prospect we believe is possible, but unlikely in the next parliament”

    Not much reading between the lines needed there; that last echoes and reiterates Ed Miliband’s clearest commitment to no further transfer of powers by any Leader of either main party since Michael Foot.

  • Roy Steele

    I will leave the reading up of the various arguments for and against remaining within Europe to educated scholars and academics like yourself and Ed Balls [cf 'The myth of Europe's Democratic Deficit, Princeton University] I can only see things from a layman’s perspective which that relies on experience [college of Life], a gut-instinct and listening to the people on the street – operative words being ‘on the street’.
    Without the workers to perform the work there is no trade group.

  • Chris Johnson

    No there isn’t, unfortunately. My postal vote form came 2 weeks ago and I posted it a few days ago. I couldn’t believe that in Labour’s last two broadcasts there was no mention of the EU. I see Ed Ball’s belated contribution as a reaction to the impact of UKIP’s campaign on public opinion.