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The Draft EU Deal Will Make Our Economy More Dynamic, Immigration Fairer, and Our Democracy Stronger

03/02/2016 08:28 | Updated 03 February 2016

Britain is stronger, safer, and better off as part of Europe. Our country stands taller in the world, benefiting from our membership of a large bloc when negotiating international deals on issues like trade and climate change. Our streets are safer as Europol, the European Arrest Warrant, and intelligence-sharing between EU police forces help our cops fight terrorism and organised crime. And our citizens are better off, as our membership of the EU's free trade zone creates jobs, opportunities, and cuts prices.

But those of us who think Britain is stronger in Europe are far from starry-eyed; we know that the EU is not perfect, and that the government is right to try to make Europe work even better for our country. A lot may change between now and the end of the European Council meeting on 19 February. But if the deal that emerges is similar to the one presented by Donald Tusk today, the government will have done a sound job in reforming Europe in Britain's best interests.

Most people in Britain, in my experience, have a clear view of immigration. While they are concerned about the pace of change in their communities and pressure on public services, they accept migrants who come to Britain to work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules. Indeed, most people value the contribution that migrants make to our public services and economy. But they do not like the feeling that they are being taken for a ride. Despite many naysayers, it seems that David Cameron will win a concession from Brussels to delay the payment of in-work benefits to EU migrants. This will make our welfare and immigration systems fairer, and put many peoples' minds at rest.

The same is true of the new 'red card' system. Many people feel that some EU laws in the past have penalised Britain - a feeling that is not unique to us among European nations. So it is right that elected representatives, brought together in national parliaments, should have the right to work together to block proposals that they feel are against our national interest.

We enjoy the best of both worlds in the EU. We are part of the largest market in the world, we co-operate with our allies in fighting terrorism, and we gain clout on the world stage. But we have an iron opt-out from the euro and from the borderless Schengen area. Opt-outs from the commitment to 'ever closer union' and protections for countries that do not use the euro, will further cement this enviable position for our country.

Making the European economy more competitive will likewise bring great benefits for Britain. Research by the independent CEBR has shown that completing the EU's single market and signing new free trade agreements will create an extra 790,000 jobs in Britain, and boost our economy by £59billion a year by 2030. For our young people who need work, and our small businesspeople growing their firms, this is a prize worth having. This will be achieved without touching social rights or protections for the environment which have been hard fought for over many years in the EU.

What has been heartening for those who want Britain to stay in the EU is the steady stream of eurosceptics coming out and endorsing the Prime Minister's renegotiation. Mark Pritchard, the Conservative MP who helped push for this referendum to take place, is no Europhile. But he has been won round, seeing that the government has achieved a new and better deal for Britain.

But the attitude of the Leave campaigns has been disappointing. On Tuesday, they emerged from their furious infighting long enough to rubbish the draft deal, calling it "a fudge and a farce." What makes this extraordinary is the fact that the government appears to have achieved most of what Leavers professed to want. The Vote Leave campaign, for example, used to place an opt-out from 'ever-closer union' as its top priority. They called for more competitiveness, action on benefits for migrants, and a red card for national parliaments.

Yet when the government has achieved all of this and more, they condemn the deal as "trivial." It is proof that the Leavers are far from reluctant. They are the only people in Britain opposed to reform, and their professions to the contrary were nothing but a cynical tactical manoeuvre. They are guilty, in the words of Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames, of "idiotic hypocrisy" and people will see through their crocodile tears.

Of course we have to wait for the final agreement, but the draft deal on the table is good for Britain. It will make our economy more dynamic, our immigration system fairer, and our democracy stronger. Britain is stronger in Europe, and if this deal is implemented we will be stronger still.

Will Straw is Executive Director of Britain Stronger In Europe

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