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5 June 2019updated 02 Sep 2021 5:46pm

David Lammy’s speech to the Commons: “Britain did not become ‘Great’ in total isolation”

“Our country’s story of renewal through Europe is a story of immigration.”

By David Lammy

Mr Speaker, the European Union was once just a remarkable dream.

A hope that our countries which fought and murdered each other on an industrial scale, twice in one century, could come together. A refusal to return to extreme nationalism. And a determination to prevent more bloody conflicts where tens of millions are killed.

The audacious idea of European integration was motivated by fear. But it was made possible by shared ideals. Democracy. Human Rights. Equality. Freedom.

And a refusal to submit to the tyranny of fascism, ever again.

After the Second World War, in 1946, Winston Churchill said this:

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“If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to its happiness, prosperity and glory.”

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But today some Conservative colleagues talk about “total independence” from Europe as though it is a virtue.

Let me remind them: Churchill understood the European dream is to build a whole bigger than the sum of its parts. He understood that it is about pooling sovereignty. Working together. Sharing Control.

Let us now be honest with the country.

Total independence is a fantasy. It is the same idea that motivates an angry teenager to run away from their family. Total independence means throwing a tantrum and ending up in the cold.

Total independence is selfishness. It is individualism, arrogance, superiority, a refusal to work together, and the break-down of the common good.

Total independence will not solve our problems. Total independence will lead to total isolation.

And let us be honest. Britain did not become “Great” in total isolation. Britain thrived by becoming the biggest Treaty-Signing power in the world. Britain thrived by signing more than 14,000 treaties in the modern age.

We thrived by sharing our sovereignty, not by stockpiling it.

Our NATO membership compels us to deploy soldiers when our fellow members are attacked.

The Paris Climate Accord is an agreement that demonstrates how we tackle global threats together, not alone.

Even our membership of the WTO commits the UK to supra-national regulation and arbitration of its own.

Mr Speaker, Sovereignty is not an asset to be hoarded. It is a resource which only has value when it is spent.

The hard Brexiteers in this house say they want to Take Back Control.

They say that we lost it because of the European Union.

But in reality they are still mourning Suez, Britain’s last fling of the Colonial dice.

Back then Anthony Eden failed to recognise that Britain was no longer capable of launching a solo imperial adventure.

Let us not fall for the same hubris today.

When those on the other side of this debate say they want Empire 2.0, let us ask: what does that mean?

What was imperialism? What was colonialism? Let us not forget this today.

At its worst, the British Empire was exploitation and subjugation.

Moral superiority that led to putting humans in shackles.

The oppression of black and brown people because this country thought it knew best.

Have we forgotten that those countries once coloured pink on the globe were not won in negotiations? Have we forgotten that they were taken by force?

Today we need to build a new image of Britain. One that brings this country together after years of division. We have to use our imagination. Empire 2.0 is not it.

After the global embarrassment of Suez, Britain became the sick man of Europe.

The EEC was set up in 1958, but Britain did not join until 1973.

In those years, GDP per head rose 95 per cent in France, Italy and West Germany.

Britain only grew at half this rate. Our industry and economy had fallen behind.

Mr Speaker, Europe gave post-imperial Britain a chance to regain some wealth and dignity.

In the 40 years since, our economy grew faster than France, Germany and Italy. We restored our position on the global stage.

But it was not only our prosperity that increased. Our allies in the US respected us for our seat at the top table of Europe.

And, the rest of the world saw us become a confident nation again.

A grown up country, prepared to give and take for the greater good.

The Brexiteer promise to Take Back Control in 2016 was nothing more than a deluded fantasy. A lie that divided friends and families.

A lie that pandered to racism and xenophobia.

And a lie that caused an extra six hundred and thirty eight Hate Crimes per month.

What does it say about the United Kingdom when the UN sends rapporteurs to warn us of increased racism in our country?

What does it say about Britain when our politicians play on the fear of migrants, races and religions, to win votes?

What did it say when Nigel Farage stood in front of a Nazi-inspired poster of refugees, with the caption “breaking point”?

The founder of the Labour Party, Keir Hardie, spoke of socialism’s “promise of freedom”, its “larger hope for humanity”, and of “binding the races of the earth into one all-embracing brotherhood”

To my good friends in the Party, those who are still wavering, I ask honestly: can you really vote for this politics of division and hate?

Can you really vote to slash workers’ rights and protections?

Can you vote to give tax avoiders a sanctuary? Can you vote to hand over more power to the clumsy hand of the market?

Mr Speaker, what I’m about to say is not fashionable – but our country’s story of renewal through Europe is a story of immigration.

We grew as a nation because of free movement.

European migrants are not “citizens of nowhere” or “queue jumpers” as the Prime Minister would have us believe. Young, energetic, diverse and willing to pay taxes, EU citizens have given so much. They have done the jobs that our own would not do.

Around 3.8m now live in Britain. Over their lifetimes, they pay in £78,000 more than they take out.

But the contribution of European migrants has not only been financial.  Our culture, our art, our music, and our food has been permanently improved.

Theresa May’s deal has emerged as a Frankenstein’s monster: an ugly beast that no one voted for or wanted.

To appease hardliners, the transition period can at most be extended to 2022. This has eradicated our leverage – it is simply not enough time to negotiate a free trade deal.

We are now on course for another cliff edge. This deal does not Take Back Control, it gives it away. It surrenders our voting rights in the European Council, Commission and Parliament, for nothing in return.

I cannot vote for any form of Brexit because every form of Brexit is worse for my constituents.

Mr Speaker, Brexit is a historic mistake.

It forgets the lessons of Britain’s past.

It forgets the value of immigrants.

It forgets that we cannot build a new Empire by force.

It forgets that in the modern world our nation will not flourish through isolation, but connection, cooperation and a new vision for the common good.

Brexit forgets why this continent came together, after two bloody wars.

Mr Speaker, this country is crying out for a second a chance.

Seven hundred thousand marched on the streets of London. Millions more campaigned online and wrote to their MPs.

They are all asking for one thing: an opportunity to right the wrong of 2016 – another shot at the imperfect but audacious European dream.

Or as Shakespeare put it in Richard the 2nd, from John of Gaunt:

“That England, that was wont to conquer others, hath made a shameful conquest of itself.”

David Lammy is the Labour MP for Tottenham.