Ray Collins on why it’s important for Britain to make the right decision in the EU referendum
The EU is not just about economic security. It is about a vision of a continent where cooperation overcomes conflict. As a nation, Britain has a moral and practical interest in stopping terrorism, supporting the poorest in the world and halting climate change. We lead in Europe on these issues and in turn Europe helps to lead the world.
There can be no disguising what reports by the House of Lords EU Committee recently highlighted, and which was confirmed by the IMF, the OECD, the Bank of England and many economists. A vote to leave the EU will lead to a lengthy period of uncertainty and economic turmoil. This could last for up to a decade causing a serious shock to our economy and tipping us into recession. The ‘Brexit’ campaign cannot sweep away the effects of that interim period, nor can they continue to dodge the questions about what alternatives to membership may look like.
Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage will 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 seen as red tape holding back progress. This is not a referendum on David Cameron’s recently negotiated EU reforms but one on weighing up the benefits of membership overall, and our place and influence in the world.
Labour has an alternative agenda for progressive change in the EU. One that would strengthen workers’ rights in a real social Europe, and put jobs and sustainable growth at the heart of European economic policy. Along with democratising EU institutions and halting the pressure to privatise public services. But the only way to get these changes will be to remain in the EU.
The progress made to date on reform will be lost if we vote to leave. Instead, we will have just two years in which to negotiate not only a new trading relationship with the EU but also with the 53 other countries we currently have agreements with because of our membership. If we fail to do so, we would then have to fall back on World Trade Organisation terms, as Farage has himself admitted. We will be entering a negotiating process where the other 27 EU member states would retain significant control.
One of the most important aspects of the withdrawal negotiations would be determining the acquired rights of the two million or so UK citizens living in other parts of the EU, and equally those citizens from other member states who live in the UK.
For many people, immigration is the issue in this referendum. They feel our country has become too crowded, that our services are under pressure, that we are losing our identity and that leaving the EU would restore control over all of these things. But we should be clear about the world in which we live and the likely impacts of referendum vote. Immigration to Britain will continue either way. Migrants contribute to our society and our economy, helping fill skills gaps and boost economic growth. It does bring challenges but can be managed by a responsible government.
Being in the EU helps Britain control immigration so it works for us, including helping us persuade France to move Britain’s border from Dover to Calais. Leaving would put that at risk; and anyone who thinks it will solve problems such as the housing shortage or the crisis in the NHS will be bitterly disappointed. Failure to prioritise these issues lies with the government not Europe.
As The Financial Times said this week, the continent’s present troubles should serve as a reminder of its capacity for self-harm. The rise of populism drawing from the well of economic and social discontent carries disturbing echoes of the 1930s. A confident Britain should see this as a moment to play a big part and lead the EU, while a vote to leave will make us a poorer nation and a lot less influential.
Lord Ray Collins of Highbury is Shadow Minister on both Foreign Affairs and International Development Minister in the House of Lords. He tweets @Lord_Collins
Published 15th June 2016