The centre-left and left of British politics has been pretty united on the Europe Union over the last few decades. That is because the principle of European unity and co-operation fits so strongly with our internationalist principles – solidarity, standing together, and the collective being stronger than the individual.
It is why being in Europe has always worked so well for Britain. From the good, unionised manufacturing jobs that depend on our exports to Europe, to the maternity leave and paid holiday enshrined in EU law, to the lower prices created by the single market, British people are better off in Europe. And co-operating with our partners on carbon emissions, anti-terrorism and the European Arrest Warrant helps keep our streets and our environment safer.
When the Prime Minister announced in 2013 that he would “renegotiate” our membership of the EU, friends and colleagues in the Labour Party were justifiably concerned. We were very worried that the Conservatives would take their damaging and misguided domestic priorities – cutting workers’ rights, getting rid of the “green crap”, cutting vital public spending – and impose them at an EU level. David Cameron was hardly reassuring when he said “nothing is off the table”, while his backbenchers have been campaigning for such damaging changes for decades.
But thankfully, the Prime Minister has heeded the warnings the labour movement made about using this renegotiation to weaken people’s rights at work. Nothing on these lines has appeared in the text of the draft agreement circulated to EU leaders today. The changes – an opt-out from ‘ever closer union’, more competitiveness in the European economy, protections for countries that do not use the euro, and action on benefits paid to EU migrants – do not endanger any of the hard-won rights and benefits that the EU has given working men and women in Britain.
Ultimately, the Prime Minister knows that it is Labour, not the Tories, who will keep us in Europe, and so anything that would weaken Labour and trade union support for Europe would be to put our membership in jeopardy. David Cameron has made a habit of folding when confronted by the wild-eyed right of his party. But on this we should put party politics to one side and recognise he has, for once, stood up to them here.
Indeed, while the reforms are hardly earth-shattering, they are substantial and will make our membership of the EU that bit more attractive. Economic reforms to boost competitiveness, like those being pioneered by left-wing governments in France and Italy, will lift the European economy, creating jobs for young people and opportunities for business here in Britain. We should welcome any further protections for countries that do not use the euro currency. And those we represent will be pleased that migrants from the EU will now be expected to pay into our welfare system before claiming benefits.
Many on the centre left and left have been wary of making the pro-European case due to fears that the renegotiation would weaken those bits of Europe we hold dearest. But it is clear that the deal on the table today does no such thing. The time has come for all of us to put the party politics to one side and make a passionate and full-throated case for our continued membership of the European Union.