Eluned Morgan on the scrutiny awaiting the EU Referendum Bill as it begins its passage through the Lords
The decision on whether we remain a part of the EU will be put to the British public at some point in the next year, probably. It will be a massive and significant moment for our nation, determining how we interact with our closest neighbours for the foreseeable future. It will also shape how we relate to the rest of the world in an age of inextricably linked markets, the greatest environmental challenges of our time and our ability to work with others to defeat security threats.
We support the proposal to hold a referendum on EU membership. Constant debate on the issue and a lack of commitment to the project by the current government is denting investor confidence and making people question where our future lies. Almost everyone in Labour meanwhile, is committed to remaining within a club that has helped ensure peace and prosperity in Western Europe for well over half a century. We will also continue to press for 16 and 17 year olds to be allowed a vote in the referendum.
It is perhaps ironic that at a time when the consequences of globalisation are literally landing on our shores, some believe we can lift the drawbridge and isolate ourselves from the world. It also seems desperately naïve of Eurosceptics to think it a good idea to withdraw support from long-term trading partners who take 50% of our goods, for some whimsical hope of making up the ground in what are now stalling markets elsewhere.
If there is to be a vote on EU membership, we should at least have some sight of the alternative plan. With opinion polls on the issue looking more volatile, it is more important than ever that the electorate is armed with the facts to make an informed decision. Without presenting any idea of life outside of the EU, the government is asking people to take a leap of faith in his negotiating skills.
We know from experience that the Prime Minister’s ability to negotiate is not very well developed. Remember the veto of the treaty in 2011? Well, I can assure you that our continental neighbours do, with Britain stuck out on a limb amongst our EU allies. Then just last week, Mr Cameron was snubbed by Spain, Finland, Romania and Belgium on the matter of withdrawing in-work benefits from UK-based EU citizens.
Would our own citizens still benefit from EU social laws like extended maternity and paternity rights, paid holidays and the right to be consulted at work? Would those British people enjoying life on the Costa del Sol have to return home? Would legislators in Whitehall or local government be wrapped up for years re-writing and integrate EU environmental laws that are now so integral to our sustainability agenda? Would Europol want to work with us if a criminal absconded abroad?
Britain has for centuries played a leadership role in global affairs. Leaving the EU would diminish our influence, image and reputation and put Germany in the driving seat for a generation. Our absence from the political and diplomatic debate on the current threats facing Europe, not least on the EU’s eastern border with Russia, would hardly enhance our influence within NATO.
People should know what lies in store if we leave the EU. Labour Peers and others will be looking for answers from the government as the Bill begins its formal passage in the Lords.
Baroness Eluned Morgan is a Shadow FCO Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @eluned_morgan
Published 12th October 2015