In recent weeks the European referendum and talk of ‘Brexit’ has dominated the headlines and news bulletins, and I felt it important to outline to constituents my position on what is the biggest political decision that we have faced this century.
Like almost all of my Labour colleagues in Parliament, I will be supporting the ‘In’ campaign as I firmly believe that the UK gains far more than we lose from our membership of the European Union. What’s more, the risks associated with ‘Brexit’ are simply too great to countenance, especially in the context of an insecure world and an uncertain economic future.
Whilst I am certainly not a zealous European – and readily acknowledge that the European Union has its faults – we have to give a bit to get something back when it comes to international affairs and our membership of the EU undoubtedly delivers a net gain for the UK.
The figures are hard to comprehend but worth reflecting on. Almost half of our trade is with Europe, exports to the EU are worth £227 billion a year to the British economy and exiting a trading zone offering unfettered access to over 500 million customers would do untold damage to British businesses. £26.5 billion is invested in Britain by EU countries every year – equal to £1 per person per day. 1.3 million British people work in the EU, and well over 2 million Brits live in Europe. British workers’ rights to holiday pay, paid maternity and paternity leave, anti-discrimination laws and equal pay are protected by EU agreements.
The ‘Leave’ campaign, split into its various squabbling tribes, groups and sub-groups reminiscent of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, has yet to explain what Brexit looks like in practice for one simple reason – leaving the EU is an enormous risk that is not worth taking.
Looking beyond our borders we are confronted by an implacable and worsening terrorist threat, an unpredictable Russia, an ongoing and worsening terrorist crisis, climate change, a faltering global economy and international criminal networks. These are transnational challenges that necessitate transnational solutions, and our security and prosperity is inexorably linked to that of our allies.
The ‘Outers’ can sloganise all they like, claiming that Brexit will enable us to regain our borders and sovereignty – but in doing so they ignore the simple fact that no nation has ever negotiated a full free trade with the EU that allows for the retention of borders controls.
Leaving the EU and spending years negotiating something similar to the ‘Norway model’ would mean that we’d be forced to follow EU rules and accept freedom of movement but have no power to influence these rules, and still have to pay into the EU budget to boot. Britain’s rightful place is as a leading figure on the international stage, sat at the top table rather than signing up to EU directives having abandoned our right to have a say over its future direction.
The referendum campaign so far has been more about the Tory leadership contest and Boris Johnson positioning himself within reach of the keys to Number 10 than the grown up discussion of what is in the best interests of Britain that we need to have.
Boris may be hogging the media limelight but Londoners must not be drawn in by our Mayor’s prevarication and flip flopping – his time in City Hall has delivered a string of broken promises and vanity projects, a threadbare Metropolitan police stretched to breaking point and a property market that excludes all bar the very wealthiest. We must not let what is essentially political theatre and an old Etonian feud writ large endanger our future prosperity and security.
Our membership of the EU protects our nation’s security and our citizens’ jobs and rights. The EU is a crucial framework for boosting trade, advancing co-operation and furthering mutual security which will become ever more important as we face the challenges of the 21st century. It is a framework through which the UK must work; rather than retreating into ourselves we must recognise the fact that as a nation we can achieve far more together than we can alone. I am proud to represent one of the most diverse and outward-looking constituencies in the country, and as your MP I will be campaigning to ensure that we remain an internationalist nation at heart.