The risk to our future is real
—Whenever I think about the European Union referendum I am perplexed and angry about how we come to be facing a decision that will impact on this and future generations. It will have profound implications for the future prosperity of our country, jobs and security because we have a weak prime minister who is prepared to risk the future of this country rather than stand up to the Eurosceptics in his own party.
Despite the growing importance of the service and financial sectors Britain remains a manufacturing country. EU trade is worth £400bn to the United Kingdom annually, while 52 per cent of what we export nationally as a country goes directly to the EU, rising to around 75 per cent in the north-east, where my constituents live and work. Millions of British jobs rely directly and indirectly on our membership of the EU; we paid £6bn to the EU last year and received £400bn in trade and £1.2tn in investment in return because we are a gateway to markets in the EU.
Brexit campaigners make a completely unsustainable argument that the UK can simply walk away from the EU and yet magically retain access to markets and trade agreements that exist precisely because of our membership of the EU. Much is made of the ‘Norway’ and ‘Switzerland’ deals when in reality these countries pay almost the same as we do per head to access the single market. Yet they must abide by EU regulations and rules on trade and free movement of people over which they have no say whatsoever.
‘Brexit’ campaigners have one aim: to leave the EU at whatever cost and deliberately hide behind issues such as migration and nationalism to justify this. They have no answers to tensions with Russia and conflict in eastern Europe, threats to the future of the Northern Irish peace process, international terrorism, climate change, and other international problems that know no boundaries. If England votes to leave the EU and Scotland votes to remain that could well be the starting gun to the break-up of the UK – so it will not be plucky little Britain standing outside the EU but an increasingly weak and isolated England alone in a troubled world.
In this referendum campaign we need to make the arguments about jobs and the economy but also to make the emotional arguments about why the EU was established in the first place and about Britain’s future place in the world, leading in a strong Europe, not isolated and alone. The EU was established after the second world war to safeguard peace in western Europe. While the EU is not the only reason we now settle our differences around a negotiating table and not on a battlefield, it remains the single most important reason. We owe it to all those young men from the UK who lie in graves all over Europe to ensure we do all we can to keep the peace in Europe.
I am campaigning not for the EU as it is but as it can be, a more socially progressive Europe that works for people by supporting a jobs and growth agenda ahead of one of liberalisation and privatisation, where we can build on our rights as workers, tackle zero-hours contracts, deal with tax evasion across the EU and build on agreed standards on climate change and international trade.
Pat Glass MP is shadow minister for Europe
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