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A future back to the 1980s?

RayCollins.jpgRay Collins on the perils of Brexit for the UK, Europe and the wider world

There is no doubt that our country’s part in creating a just, safe, secure and sustainable world will be hugely impacted on by the people’s decision at next month’s EU referendum.

The Treasury report makes clear what will happen in the interim prior to any future relationship with the EU being concluded – a period that could potentially last for a decade and see a collapse in sterling. The ‘Leave’ campaign cannot sweep away the possible effects of that period. Nor can they keep dodging questions about what alternatives to membership may look like.

The Bank of England’s Mark Carney has warned that a vote to leave could tip the UK into recession; with the CBI’s Carolyn Fairbairn saying it would cause a serious shock to our economy. So the words of many in the Brexit campaign take us back to a future reminiscent of the 1980’s, when unemployment was said to be ‘a price worth paying’ while paid leave and health and safety were considered as red tape holding back progress.

Of course, the EU is not just about economic security. As a nation, we have a moral and practical interest in preventing conflict, stopping terrorism, supporting the poorest in the world and halting climate change. The EU has helped to keep the peace in Europe for decades – all the more important at a time of instability in Ukraine and the Middle East.

By working with our EU partners, the UK has achieved global agreement on Goals for Sustainable Development and new emissions targets. We need to do more to reduce aid dependency and foster good government by supporting developing countries to collect their own taxes. We need global agreement on tax transparency and to ensure that companies pay their tax in-country.

Following last week’s Anti-Corruption Summit in London, we now have the promise of legislation to tackle money laundering and tax evasion. But one immediate step would be for UK ministers to push for information on company ownership in overseas territories to be made public. Another would be for them to ensure for fairness that the taxation treaties the UK has with other countries are not simply seen as a Treasury matter and to fully involve DfID.

Human rights are universal and mature democracies should support the development of free societies everywhere while upholding their own legal and moral obligations. The EU has played a vital role in protecting human rights globally. One significant area for me personally has been its part in protecting LGBTI rights, by implementing anti-discrimination laws, recognising and promoting same-sex marriage, and funding work that fights discrimination. Our government has spoken up strongly for the rights of lesbian and gay people but, with a daily risk of increased violence, this work would not be as effective if the UK acted alone.

On preventing conflict and stopping terrorism, there were notable omissions in the Queen’s Speech. The UK’s longstanding ally Saudi Arabia has been supporting the Yemen President in its recent conflict. And our government has supplied weapons export licences worth £3bn to the Saudis despite a UN panel of experts report documenting breaches in international humanitarian law. We should suspend such sales until a proper investigation is concluded.

Last month, the House of Commons called on the government to make an immediate referral to the UN Security Council that Christians, Yazidis and religious minorities in Syria and Iraq are suffering genocide. As Ministers indicated that any referral must be evidence based, they should tell us both what has been gathered so far and when will they be in a position to take this to the Security Council.

Since joining the EU, UK foreign policy has had two key pillars: exercising a leading role in Europe and being the principal ally of the United States. As President Obama made clear, leaving the EU would have an impact on both of those pillars.

The threats that we face as a nation today, relating to terrorism, migration and cross-border crime are shared with our nearest neighbours. Any coherent UK foreign and security strategy has to be founded on that European strategy, with our shared values and interests on peace and security.

Lord Ray Collins of Highbury is Shadow Minister on both Foreign Affairs and International Development in the House of Lords. He tweets @Lord_Collins

Published 23rd May 2016

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