The battle for Britain’s place in the world starts now

by Callum Anderson

The election has passed, the Labour (and Liberal Democrat) leadership contests are in full swing and the Queen has made her speech at the State Opening of Parliament.

And as has been well documented over the last month, amongst the Bills announced was the EU Referendum Bill – a commitment to giving the British people a vote on the UK’s EU membership by the end of 2017.

It was passed with an overwhelming majority of 544-53 last week.

Of course, in many ways, this is no surprise.

The tide has largely turned within the Labour camp on the concept of a referendum: the three frontrunners in the leadership contest having reversed Ed Miliband’s opposition to an EU referendum, acknowledging the inevitability that the British people wanted to have their say on whether Britain continues its membership in the EU.

A myriad of polls have shown either a decent poll for the retaining membership: YouGov poll revealing ‘record support’ among Britons for staying in the EU, while a British Future survey recently found, up to 46.8 per cent of Britons would vote to stay in the EU, as opposed to the 40.3 per cent on the contrary.

But, of course, one of the many things the 2015 General Election taught us was that we must not slavishly and unquestioningly believe opinion polls and so, therefore, we pro-Europeans must reject any notion of complacency towards the task that now stands before us.

Yet, even as the prime minister confuted his whistle stop tour of key European capitals a few weeks ago, the question ‘what exactly does Britain seek from negotiations?’ remains an incredibly pertinent question.

So far, the entire narrative of Britain’s renegotiating its relationship with the EU has centred on immigration and, in particular, stopping them claiming benefits. However, despite supposedly promising noises coming from the German chancellor, the chances of a treaty change within the prime minister’s timeframe of two years remains slim.

This, coupled with the fact that Britain has a foreign secretary whose heart is not invested in the concept of a sensible negotiation and collaboration with our EU partners has made the prime minister’s job of defining exactly what powers he wishes to be repatriated to Britain and how he envisions this country’s relationship with the EU and, in effect, the world is made harder still.

This is why when the EU Referendum Bill was officially passed last week, just one thing was clear: the battle for Britain’s place in the world has begun.

The question that we, as British citizens, must ask ourselves over the next two years is how much influence do we want Britain to have in the twenty-first century?

Do we want a Britain, as Fareed Zakaria of the Washington Post put it a few weeks ago, to all but resign from the world stage. To limit itself to affairs on this small island – effectively a ‘nothing-to-do-with-me’ approach.

Or do we want Britain to be a confident, outward-looking nation, which doesn’t merely shirks the challenges we face in the twenty-first century – globalisation, climate change, spreading human rights, confronting ageing societies – but relishes the prospect of helping to shape how to overcome them.

For Labour, this is no time to hesitate. We must prepare for the campaign now.

As the only UK-wide progressive force left, Labour must argue unambiguously in favour of EU membership. Indeed, as my colleague Dan Cooke wrote on these pages a few days ago, Labour cannot afford to merely wait for the ‘In’ campaign, but must seek to lead it.

And that is why I welcome the formation of Labour Yes – due to be launched this week. No time can be lost on arguing the case in a referendum more important perhaps than AV and the Scottish independence – Britain’s direction of travel in the twenty-first century.

As I have argued extensively on these pages, the economic benefits that Britain enjoys through investment, access to the world’s richest trading bloc (and the opportunity to influence the rules of that single market), must be front and centre of our campaign to stay in.

But, at the same time, we must not neglect the emotional arguments for staying in the EU. Indeed, there is very much a positive and emotional case for Britain retaining EU membership.  Jim Murphy put it well when he argued that pro-Europeans must also emphasise that the EU has been “responsible for one of the great moral triumphs of our time: the establishment of democracy and the rule of law in the south and east of Europe.”

Indeed, this referendum offers Labour the perfect chance project itself as sensible advocates of the national interest. We must campaign robustly but positively for a country that rejects turning in on itself in favour of confident and open-minded internationalism.

For the challenges Britain will face in this century cannot – and will not – be solved by isolation but by co-operation and collaboration.

Callum Anderson works at a national charity

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14 Responses to “The battle for Britain’s place in the world starts now”

  1. Tafia says:

    All Labour has to decide is two things:-

    1. Does it support Camerons reforms (being as that is what YES depends on)
    2. If Cameron fails does it support staying in the EU with no reforms at all.

    And them sell that to the public.

    Piece of piss – especially when you consider that a sceptical public will not accept promises, ambitions, or aims. Just guarenteed changes – and not from UK politicians bit from the EU it self.

    Does Labour trust the EU to deliver promises? Really? And in turn does it think the people will believe? Really?

  2. helen says:

    Why will coming out of the EU be isolation? We can still trade with the rest of the world. And how much influence do we have in the EU anyway? Membership might help the commercial world but it is very bad for the less well off people. Too much competition for limited resources – housing, education, health services. And via the supply and demand mechanism it lowers wages for low income workers.

  3. Mike Stallard says:

    At the moment, the Labour movement is light years behind the action. Good old Kate Hoey for noticing!
    It is imperative for us all – Labour workers, immigrants, the vulnerable, public servants – that Britain gets out of the EU before the roof falls in.
    Think about it. Immigration, Ukraine, Putin, Greece, the Euro are all crises which cannot be coped with at the moment by 28 totally different countries. Mr Cameron had to visit all sorts of people to discover their very different views. Sooner or later someone is going to arise who can provide More Europe. And that is a moment to dread. Europe could easily become one huge Albania or even worse, Argentina under Peron, Chile under Pinochet.
    Oh- it could never happen here! Why ever not? Isn’t that slightly racist?
    Please see how we can painlessly and happily get our independence back and start to trade with the whole world once again on EUReferendum blog (no political affiliation: just keen to leave with the best research stretching back twenty years.)

  4. Rallan says:

    Why does Labour overwhelmingly support membership of the EU when it is so obviously damaging to the working poor? I am mystified. We’re talking about a massive inexhaustible supply of cheap foreign labour that takes jobs, housing and community from the people who would traditionally be expected to vote Labour.

  5. wg says:

    May I pick up on one paragraph:

    “Or do we want Britain to be a confident, outward-looking nation, which doesn’t merely shirks the challenges we face in the twenty-first century – globalisation, climate change, spreading human rights, confronting ageing societies – but relishes the prospect of helping to shape how to overcome them.”

    Where is this “confident” nation when we have a virtual underclass that has been buried under mass immigration and huge numbers of migrant workers?

    How are we “outward-looking” when we are tied to a protectionist, and corporatist European Union who do our talking for us?
    A union in which we have 8% of voting influence, can be outvoted under a system of QMV, and are absent when the big decisions are made at a global level.

    How, in the context of the EU, are we helping the battle against “climate change”, or “spreading human rights”, when the European Union is responsible for using taxpayers money for massive deforestation, and subsidising land barons to force farmers off their properties in its quest for bio-fuels?

    Not to mention the subsidised EU fishing fleets that are assisting other voracious nations in destroying the fishing grounds of Western Africa.

    And how does the mobilisation of thousands of migrant workers help our aging society – the older workers of this country are pushed aside in preference for the masses of incoming young and fit Eastern European workers.

    I’m sorry to get personal, but it comes as no surprise that the author works for a charity.
    There is a tier of people in this country that see the man/woman on the street as a charge that needs to be looked after – I want to see our people on their feet, independent, with a decent chance of getting and holding on to a job, and their nation making their own political decisions without interference.

    I pray that the pollsters have got it completely wrong again – in this instance I may well be correct.
    The media and the establishment share the same bubble and the plebs on the outside are sick of their arrogance. This could be the moment when the people fight back.

  6. Tafia says:

    It is being reported in Sunday Times that the German and Belgian governments plus a couple of others support the idea of UK becoming an ‘Associate Member’ as opposed to a full member, with full trading access but none of the treaty obligations.

  7. swatantra says:

    FirsB lets talk about Britain’s place in Europe before going on and taking on the World. Britain has to be at the heart of Europe, and leading from the front, not trailing on behind like the barrow cleaning up the horsesh*t in the wake of the Lord Mayor’s Show. Britain can only exert influence as part of the European Union; alone it is a toothless tiger. and playing lapdog to America isn’t going to work either. Britain can not go it alone; it is no longer the World’s Policeman, thank God.

  8. David Walker says:

    “Do we want a Britain, as Fareed Zakaria of the Washington Post put it a few weeks ago, to all but resign from the world stage. To limit itself to affairs on this small island – effectively a ‘nothing-to-do-with-me’ approach.

    Or do we want Britain to be a confident, outward-looking nation, which doesn’t merely shirks the challenges we face in the twenty-first century – globalisation, climate change, spreading human rights, confronting ageing societies – but relishes the prospect of helping to shape how to overcome them.”

    Thanks for framing the debate in such a non-partisan manner. It wouldn’t surprise me if this is how the question is posed on the referendum ballot paper, but why not simplify it further? How about…

    Are you a disgusting xenophobe and guilty of race-hatred?

    Are you innocent?

  9. paul barker says:

    An excellent article but are you quite sure that Labour is a “progressive force”? The comments so far dont back that up.

  10. Delta Alpha says:

    So what will the outcome be?
    Being subject to a super state that is accountable to none and cannot deal with men like Putin, that is increasingly undemocratic and unaccountable to anyone? A reduction in democratic representation and the structures that permit freedom and equality result in political decline and increased inequality.
    You say that is progressive?
    The old arguments that this is about maintaining peace in Europe are nonsense as the old post war settlement has gone and the legitimate body that could police separate nations to prevent holocaust gone….replace by a political body seeking more power and influence using its position as separate from any individual country to become a (foreign to any European nation) Super State.
    The old argument that we will be isolated if we are not part of the EU is utter nonsense. This is about economic equality and parity. I do not see Europe’s businesses suddenly not wanting to sell their goods to us as the most tolerant multicultural global country in Europe…or wanting to come here to do business.
    What we will gain is the ability by leaving is our ability to protect our business interests, our ability to prosper by being open to the world not limited by a weak bully of an organisation that is giving Putin a field day to run amok. He can sense Europe’s feeble coalition of undemocratically selected Autocratic Eurocrats, he knows they cannot question his position and he also knows how weak and easily outmanoeuvred they are. Hence the issue of Putin having a base in Cyprus, something the Soviet Union never achieved.
    We are still members of Nato and we still have massive influence in the world, despite Europe we remain a very democratic Nation despite the cowardly subservice and unquestioning mindless dribbling proposed by an ignorant, intellectually bankrupt and decomposing regressive Labour corpse.

  11. Helen says:

    I don’t understand why leaving the EU would be regressive. Surely it is progressive, when something is not working to one’s advantage it is better to cut ones losses and move on. Staying stuck in an untenable situation is regressive. Also I don’t understand why this position is being labelled xenophobe and racist. This seems to me to be an emotional reaction. How about logical fact based reasons for staying in the EU. But lets try and look after our least well off people – what ever their nationality or race.

  12. Robert says:

    I doubt I would bother voting I simply cannot be bothered. lets the young people vote for it they have to live with it. If i was forced then I would say OUT.

  13. Tafia says:

    are you quite sure that Labour is a “progressive force”?

    Depends on the individual’s definition of progressive. For instance, leaving the EU could be seen as progressive – leaving a restricted, closed-shop organisation to trade at liberty on our own terms with the world at large. Someone Pro-EU would see ‘progressive’ as being the exact opposite.

  14. Ex labour says:

    As Callum has argued before about staying in I have argued that he should stick to his charity job rather than pontificate about economic matters. Just do some research on the balance of trade within Europe, who we do most of our business with, the restrictions on forming trade relationships with other nations, the red tape and regulation introduced by Germany and France but subsequently ignored by them, the fact we legally cannot control our borders in the way we want and suffer from the impact of migrants driving down salaries for the lower paid and impose massive burdens on schools, GP’s, NHS etc at what cost, the bonkers climate legislation drafted by Eco-loons who ignore the new science and how this has driven up our energy bills by up to 30%.

    Apart from that what’s not to like ?


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