In the debate about how British jobs and business would be damaged irreparably by the Conservative threat to take us out of the European Union, Labour has to argue the case too that it would wreak equal damage to Britain’s standing and influence in the world.
International partners, including Britain’s historic allies and friends, have been clear. Japan called on the UK to “maintain a strong voice and continue to play a major role in the EU.” Australia told the UK that EU membership allows Britain greater “leverage in our global influence.” And the Obama administration warned Britain that referendums such as the one wanted by David Cameron “turn countries inward.”
If the Conservatives were honest, that is the real alternative which they offer.
Remember when Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s adviser wanted to criticise British intelligence, he called us “a small island no one listens to?”. And Eurosceptics often cite Norway. But the Head of the Institute of International Affairs in Oslo says his country’s relationship with the EU is no alternative for Britain, as it is “complex and costly, as well as problematic in terms of democracy and the national interest”.
Even the UK Government’s own so-called and skewed “Balance of Competencies” review came to the same conclusion. The report on EU foreign policy published earlier this year found that competencies “remain squarely with Member States” and that “most of the evidence argues..strongly in the UK’s interest to work through the EU”.
Yet it is Tory ideology that leads them to ignore their own evidence.
The European Council on Foreign Relations (in this year’s European Foreign Policy Scorecard), has already shown the British Government prepared to give up leadership in six out of nineteen areas of European foreign policy. This is despite the overall finding that in only one area during the last year – EU-China investment – has there been any even minor divergence between EU and UK goals.
Meanwhile EU High Representative for foreign policy Cathy Ashton has scored a series of successes including the mediation between Serbia and Kosovo, encouraging reforms in Burma, leading the enormously important diplomacy on Iran’s nuclear programme, and combatting piracy off the Horn of Africa.
We should be proud that Cathy is British too, and a former Labour leader in the House of Lords at that. In the European Parliament her achievements will always be attributed to her individual merits not her nationality. But surely those successes do demonstrate how British foreign policy can sit comfortably at the heart of today’s European Union?
Labour has a different vision, not just for Britain but for Europe too. Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander has rightly argued that the EU amplifies British power and promotes “our values and not just our interests”. We understand that every EU country stands taller, is able to build better alliances, win more trade deals, tackle global challenges including climate change, by taking a constructive part in a common European foreign policy. Labour believes this enhances not threatens British sovereignty.
Today we punch above our weight. Tomorrow we may not even get in to the ring.
In the European Parliament, Labour rejects the argument for British exceptionalism. In our own country, we oppose British isolationism. And it is our party not our opponents, who best represent British influence.