We’re on the eve of the EU referendum - and it will probably be the most important vote you will cast in a generation. Yet, truthfully, it’s been a dispiriting few weeks, marred by hysteria, myth-making and half-truths - such as the ‘Leave campaign’ doubling the amount the UK pays for EU membership and then painting the false figures on the side of its bus , to take just one example.
This referendum - like others before it, is also increasingly about something more and different than the specific question being asked. It is as much about how people feel about identity in a fast-changing world (including the impact of migration), who are the winners and losers in a globalised economy and the effects of austerity since the worldwide crash- as it is about membership of the EU. That makes the debate much more complex and more deeply emotional. Critically, June 23rd can’t be the end of a vital conversation.
Yet the risk is that a vote for exit from Europe on the 23rd WILL mark an end. The die will be cast and the consequences will have to be lived with. I don’t want us to take that risk.
Of course the EU is far from perfect- there’s much more we need to do to improve how it works. We as politicians haven’t done well enough in either explaining the value of negotiated agreements and compromises in our national interest, or setting out clear, measurable goals for improvement. Meanwhile, the continuing fall-out from the global financial crisis on the one hand, and the implosion of Syria and the wider refugee crisis on the other, have added to the challenge of promoting European co-operation as a force for good and order in a tough world.
Yet I believe that it is. I’ve been campaigning to vote remain, and I’ll carry on until polls close on the 23rd. And here’s why:
European co-operation emerged out of the ashes of the worst wars in human history. We should be proud of our recent history of peaceful compromise - and we can’t take it for granted. Watch this video by former Prime Minster Gordon Brown.
We pay into Europe, of course, but it’s a tiny proportion of our national wealth, and we get far more back in investment and trade. £26.5 billion is invested in Britain by EU countries every year. The EU is Britain’s biggest export market: almost half of all of Britain’s exports go to the EU. Exports to the EU are worth £227 billion a year to the British economy. Trade would continue if we vote to leave, but we would still have to follow EU rules when we do business there. Meanwhile, we would have given up our say in the making of those rules. Surely it is better for Britain to have a seat at the table and a say in making the rules?
Millions of British jobs are linked to EU membership. Independent research by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research shows over three million British jobs are linked to our trade with Europe. If EU countries buy less of our goods and services, UK jobs are put at risk. Above all, it will be our young people whose future is most at risk. The young are most pro-European in their outlook - we, the generation who are their parents and grand-parents, must think about their interests.
British workers benefit from EU agreements on workers’ rights - fought for by Labour - including the right to holiday pay, paid maternity and paternity leave, anti-discrimination laws, equal pay and protection for agency workers. Leaving would allow this or a future government to cut back on employment, social and environmental protections. This would be a race to the bottom and erode rights we now take for granted.
From organised crime to protecting the environment, the challenges we now face don’t respect national boundaries but require international co-operation. For example, Thousands of criminals, including terrorists, have been arrested under the European Arrest Warrant. Britain has also taken a lead in a range of environmental campaigns in Europe from climate change to air pollution. The EU enables European countries to form “one negotiating bloc” which amplifies British influence in climate discussions.
Being in the EU enhances Britain’s global influence and allows us to take our place at the top table. The ‘soft power’ of the EU has been a major factor in locking human rights and democracy into the politics of the continent. And at a time of continuing instability, from the Ukraine to the Middle East, we need more co-operation, not less.
Voting to remain is a positive choice- giving us the opportunity to benefit from our membership but also the scope to keep working to make things better. A ‘Leave’ vote is unlikely to be something we can change in my lifetime. So please- do use your vote, make your voice heard and let’s make the next steps we take as a country forward, not back.
How much do you really know about the EU? Just for fun, take the MORI quiz…