The Labour Party must start to make a more forceful defence of our membership of the European Union. We musn’t be afraid to articulate the positive aspects of EU membership. Nor must we hesitate in calling out the Tories out when they attempt to pacify their backbenches by pursuing policies that are against the national interest.
We have not done this so far. As a result we are losing the debate and face the very real prospect of losing a referendum.
The past two years have seen a marked and dangerous shift in the UK Government’s approach to our membership of the European Union. This culminated with Michael Gove’s unprecedented announcement recently that eight Cabinet Members want to withdraw from the EU. He supposedly said that Britain should demand powers back from the EU, and if it didn’t get its way, go in a Kevin-like strop and walk out (shouting “I am not your slave”).
Labour should be calling the Conservatives out on stunts like this. They recklessly play politics with Britain’s influence abroad when people and businesses rely on the Government to get it right.
I’m not advocating that the Labour Party makes a crazed articulation of a federal dream. It should base its criticism of the Government’s inadequate Europe policy in on one simple argument:
By playing fast and lose with our influence in the committees and councils of Europe, the Government is reducing our ability to make friends and influence the outcome of votes that are key to British businesses and the 3.5 million jobs which rely on trade with the EU.
Yet Labour is nowhere on this. Yvette Cooper stood up to Theresa May over the European Arrest Warrant only to be rebuffed:
“Let us remember that it was the Labour party that wanted to sign up to the European constitution and that planned to scrap the pound and join the euro. It has no credibility on European issues in this House.”
For years those who are against our membership of the EU have been growing in stature in the UK and shaping the EU debate. We progressives have failed to meaningfully counter this. We therefore now face the real prospect of a referendum on British membership of the EU, which we may lose. Membership of the EU is inherently progressive because it says everything about our country’s approach to globalisation. In a world increasingly dominated by countries far bigger than Britain, will we be a mature partner country in Europe to tackle climate change, get the best deal for British businesses, and leverage European clout to protect human rights around the globe?
Or are we going to turn our back on the world? Shun the international forum that is most important for our global influence, approach the BRIC countries on our own, and rely on continuing US support when it is increasingly looking east?
We genuinely risk ending up in the second camp if people like you are not willing to stand up and make your voice heard on Europe. If the debate on the NHS or education had become so dominated by the Tory right as the debate on Europe has the Labour Party would be in uproar. There would be protests in the street. We need the same sense of urgency on the European debate. It can’t wait; we have already begun the slide into irrational and irrelevant isolation.
Joe Coney is Head of Campaigns at Nucleus (@eurorealist) a campaign for British leadership in Europe