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7 December 2015updated 26 Jul 2021 12:35pm

Forget David Cameron – and focus on keeping Britain in Europe

Labour is rightly focussing on the big arguments for staying in, says Pat McFadden.

By Pat McFadden

Last week Labour launched its official campaign to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union. 

Headed by Alan Johnson MP and supported by 214 of Labour’s 232 MPs including every member of the Shadow Cabinet, the campaign will be a distinct Labour voice arguing against Brexit and making the case for Britain to stay in.  We will take the case to voters, communities and workplaces throughout the country.

With the European Council discussion of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation demands now postponed until February it is important that pro-membership voices do not sit back and are out there now making ourselves heard.

Read many of our daily papers and you would be forgiven for thinking the EU was obsessed with destroying the great British way of life but the reality is that from manufacturing exports to university research to farming and regional support the UK has benefited greatly from membership of the EU.

That’s why Labour has been right not to place too much weight on the Prime Minister’s renegotiation process and to focus instead on the broader case for membership.  Much of the renegotiation has more to do with managing the Conservative Party than putting the interests of the country first.  There is a bigger case for membership to be made and we will make it.

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In any case, there is nothing the Prime Minister can renegotiate that will meet the expectations of his Eurosceptic backbenchers.  Many of them want to campaign for Brexit at all costs and the referendum is the moment they have been waiting for.

When it comes to the referendum the decision for voters won’t just be about what the Prime Minister has or has not managed to renegotiate – it will be about the core arguments for in or out.

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As Alan Johnson pointed out at Labour’s campaign’s launch, this begins with values.  We forget at our peril that the EU has helped secure peace in a continent scarred by previous wars and provided a bridge from tyranny to democracy for many of its members.  The old Europe of fractious nation states is not a past to be yearned for.

And when it comes to the economics the EU is easily our most important export market, home to over £200 billion worth of exports every year and an attractive reason for inward investment from around the world to come to the UK.  Ask any car manufacturer or foreign bank why they are located in the UK and membership of the EU is likely to be high on the list of answers.

These are not abstract arguments.  Membership supports jobs and living standards which help families throughout this country maintain a decent standard of living month in and month out. 

And the EU is not just a source of jobs, investment and trade, vital though all of these are.  It has also been an important source of social and employment rights over the years.  Rights such as fixed amounts of paid leave, equal treatment for part time workers, fair pay for agency workers and many anti-discrimination measures are underpinned by EU wide agreements.  If we leave the EU there is no guarantee these rights would remain.  Indeed if we look at the Trade Union bill being rammed through Parliament by the Tories we get some idea of what they would do freed to launch a broader attack on hard won social rights and protections. 

Of course the EU faces huge challenges right now, both on the economic front and over refugees and migration.  But like most challenges in today’s interconnected world these are best met by more co-operation and stronger working together rather than a retreat into the nationalism and nostalgia which characterises the campaign to take Britain out of the EU.

Take the European Arrest Warrant for example.  Given the security threat we face, who would argue that it made sense to row back on co-operation between police and security forces and go back to the days of a patchwork of extradition treaties which offered criminals safe haven from arrest and prosecution?

With the Conservatives looking inward on the issue of EU membership it falls to Labour to argue the progressive case for staying in, and for Britain to play our part as a globally connected ambitious country.

The result of the referendum will decide the United Kingdom’s future for a generation to come.  Labour’s campaign is now up and running and will be of crucial importance to the outcome.