THE BLOG

Britain Must Remain in a Reformed European Union

16/02/2016 14:00

The forthcoming EU referendum will be the most important choice our country has faced in a generation. Being in Europe means jobs and opportunities for people across Britain, because of the huge quantities of trade and investment linked to our EU membership. It means a bright future of greater prosperity and greater influence for our country. And, if we leave, these current and future advantages will be put at risk.

Britain's economy is stronger in Europe. The EU is our largest trade partner, with full access to the single market bringing £133billion in additional trade we would otherwise not benefit from. It is no wonder that three million jobs are linked to our trade with the EU. The benefits of the single market are such that countries from around the world want to share in them, meaning international firms invest in the UK as a gateway to Europe.

It is sometimes said that we must choose between trade with Europe and trade with the rest of the world. The truth, however, is that our place in Europe expands our trading opportunities globally. When negotiating free trade agreements, the collective clout of the EU's 500million consumers can secure terms better than those available to the UK, with our population of 65million.

Our economy is not just stronger in Europe now, but will continue to be stronger in the future. The independent CEBR think-tank has found that the value of our goods trade with the 55 countries with which the EU has trade deals amounted to £97billion in 2014. Trade between the UK and these economies is fast-growing, having doubled in the last two decades. Taken together with the value of goods traded with the EU itself, 64% of our goods exports would be affected by a change in the UK's EU membership. That is £466billion in trade that would be put at risk by our leaving Europe.

Britain is better off, stronger and safer in Europe now, regardless of the outcome of the Prime Minister's negotiations. And as a Labour MP, the rules of political partisanship mean there is a constant temptation to rubbish anything achieved by David Cameron. But the deal the government appears to have reached with Brussels will make Europe work better for Britain.

The deal on the table rightly recognises that different countries can have different approaches to European integration. By increasing protections for non-Eurozone states, it builds on the last Labour government's far-sighted decision to keep Britain out of the Euro. And it will make the free movement of people fairer, by restricting the payment of some benefits to migrants from EU countries.

The arguments for Britain's continued membership of the EU are overwhelmingly positive. But it is reasonable to ask those who want our country to end a 40-year relationship to outline what the alternative is. Different Leave campaigners favour alternatives as diverse as Norway, Switzerland, Canada, and even Peru. What their models all have in common, however, is that they do not provide equivalent access to European markets as our current arrangements. They do not include vital co-operation on counter-terrorism and foreign policy either. And all will create uncertainty, which will damage businesses and put jobs and investment at risk.

Britain is stronger, more influential, and better off in Europe. And I am confident that Europe will advance our strength, our influence and our economy into the future. That is why, for the sake of all Britons, I am determined we keep Britain in Europe.

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