[First published 9th June on Hilary's Blog for South Leeds Life, here.]
As a result of the general election, by the end of 2017 we will have taken the most important decision we have faced about our country’s place in the world for forty years. The Government is now going to bring forward a Bill for a referendum on our membership of the European Union. I will be supporting the Bill, along with my Labour colleagues.
I believe in being straight, so let me start by saying that I will be voting for Britain to remain in the EU. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want reform in Europe – I do. Like many people – and businesses – I want to see changes in the way the EU works and on benefits and transitional controls in future on citizens from any new EU countries who want to work in Britain. The truth is that while migration has brought benefits to the British economy overall, not everyone feels those benefits equally. And it cuts across the British sense of fair play that you can take out before you contribute.
I also think the EU needs to respond to the growing demand for more devolution of power – something dear to our hearts in Leeds and Yorkshire – and recognise that it must work for those countries that are and will remain outside the Euro (like the UK).
But we shouldn’t let frustration with some aspects of Europe result in our stumbling inadvertently towards the EU exit sign.
The European Union has been successful in bringing the countries of Europe together and securing 70 years of peace. The removal of barriers to trade has helped create jobs, including in Leeds. Almost half the investment that comes to the UK is from elsewhere in the EU. And because we did not join the Euro, we have all the advantages of our own currency, but we still get full access to the single market with 500 million consumers across Europe. The EU has also helped improve labour standards across Europe and for workers in our city, including the right to paid holiday and to equal treatment for part-time workers.
In the light of all this, the idea that our future prosperity and security somehow lies in turning our face away from the EU – in a world that is increasingly interdependent – makes no sense to me. It is not that we could not manage outside; we could. The truth, however, is that we will do much better as a city – and as a nation – if we stay in. What’s more, separation will make it harder to successfully tackle the big challenges that require international co-operation. The fact is we have more power as a nation because we are in the EU than we could ever hope to have by acting alone.
Those are the arguments I will be making in this referendum, and it will be up to all of us to decide.