Why the EU renegotiation and referendum matter so much

16th February, 2016 2:19 pm

Chuka Umunna

Like the vast majority of Labour Party members, I believe that Britain is stronger, safer, and better off in the European Union. I am looking forward to the ongoing renegotiation finishing, so that we can all focus on the big argument about Britain’s future. Being in Europe creates jobs for our young people and opportunities for our businesses, and it makes us more secure and influential in the world.

But there is no doubt the deal agreed later this week will impact the referendum campaign, and quite possibly the result. So how should Labour, and all people on the progressive side of politics, respond to David Cameron’s deal? 

It is deeply disappointing that David Cameron is dealing with these issues, rather than a Labour Prime Minister – and the sooner we boot his party out of office the better. So it would be far easier for all of us to join the ranks of those slamming the deal and proclaim the PM’s renegotiation a failure – that is the default setting of our political system, and there are plenty of other issues on which Cameron and his government deserve nothing but criticism.    

But, though our membership of the EU cannot be reduced down to the PM’s four main demands and being in brings us so much notwithstanding the renegotiation, the proposals outlined are meaningful and deserving of our support. 

The first thing to recognise is that, despite the legitimate fears of many of us, the deal that is taking shape will not water down the social protections delivered to British workers and families by the EU. Thanks to EU legislation, employees’ rights over annual leave, protections for women in the workplace and guaranteed pay levels have all been strengthened. Maternity and paternity leave and protections for agency workers equally will not be watered-down, despite the wishes of the Tory and UKIP figures running the Leave campaigns.

The renegotiation includes measures we ought to welcome. The principle running through the reforms is clear: economic partnership to bring prosperity and jobs, balanced with economic control to protect our national interests. The GMB union, of which I am a member, is amongst many organisations to see this which is why we learnt yesterday that they are throwing their full weight behind the campaign to keep us in. 

Older generations I speak to say they believed, when they voted to remain in 1975, that they were being asked to sign up to an economic arrangement and not a political union. This is why the legal clarification of “ever closer union” that has been put on the table matters for many of them: it formally commits the EU to manage different degrees of integration. It would represent a redefinition of European co-operation, elevating national interests to sit alongside collective objectives.

Guarantees about the future of the single currency are also vital. The last Labour Government was right to keep us out of the Euro and now we are clear: it is not on the ballot paper – and it is not on the horizon.

Furthermore, guarantees that agreements to strengthen the functioning of the Eurozone will not constitute a barrier to cross-EU trade or discriminate against non-Eurozone members show that the EU’s financial decision-making architecture is being morphed around Britain’s priorities. 

Lastly, we must never engage in rhetoric or a mind-set which undermines the contribution made by immigrants from Europe who come to work in and contribute to our country, our economy, and our – especially – our National Health Service. We should have no truck with the scapegoating and scaremongering that spews forth from the likes of UKIP.

But the way in which freedom of movement operates in the EU cannot remain static when the EU has grown from 6 to 28 member states. The answer is not a rejection of the principle altogether, which amounts to a rejection of the single market and economic self-harm, but reforms to the operation of free movement from within.  

We await the final outcome of the proposed package. But, if agreed, on the whole we should be able to welcome them and then move on to the bigger arguments (which we’d all rather focus on) for staying in. Above all, for countries like Britain, influence is proportionate to the strength of international partnerships in the 21st century – the EU is our biggest and nearest partnership, that is why this referendum matters so much.

Chuka Umunna is Labour MP for Streatham, a spokesperson for Britain Stronger In Europe and the PLP London lead for Labour In for Britain.

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]


  • Comment Featured Thatcher wanted the ‘managed decline’ of Merseyside. I want to manage its renaissance

    Thatcher wanted the ‘managed decline’ of Merseyside. I want to manage its renaissance

    Back in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher’s government came close to writing off Merseyside. There was a serious conversation about leaving our city and its neighbours to ‘managed decline’ and the tender mercies of her economic shock therapy. As her Chancellor at the time, Geoffrey Howe, patronisingly put it: ‘We must not expend all our limited resources in trying to make water flow uphill.’ We’ve come a long way since then. Since 2010, Labour has had the privilege of running Liverpool […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Burnham emerges as LabourList readers’ favourite for Manchester Mayor

    Burnham emerges as LabourList readers’ favourite for Manchester Mayor

    Andy Burnham is LabourList readers’ favourite to become the Labour candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester. The Shadow Home Secretary announced his candidacy last week, and is up against Ivan Lewis and Tony Lloyd to go into next year’s election. Of those who voted in our survey, 45 per cent opted for Burnham, who came second in last year’s leadership election. Tony Lloyd finished some way behind with 22 per cent, while Ivan Lewis received the support of 12 per cent […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured It’s not the shared economy, stupid – but it does require a collective response

    It’s not the shared economy, stupid – but it does require a collective response

    It is often described as the sharing economy. It sounds very cuddly. All of us on a patchwork sofa, sharing a nice cup of tea… Or it’s the gig economy – because Uber drivers are all creative artists enjoying their freedom to perform… I prefer to call it the new intermediaries economy. Not as cuddly or cool but more accurate. When you get into an Uber cab the driver is not sharing her car with you, she is selling you […]

    Read more →
  • Europe News Blair: Brexit would hit living standards of society’s poorest most

    Blair: Brexit would hit living standards of society’s poorest most

    Tony Blair has weighed in on the debate over Brexit, warning that leaving the European Union would hit living standards and hit the poorest in society most. The former Prime Minister appears to make an appeal to Labour supporters – seen as an important swing demographic in the vote – in two interventions today. While Blair is a divisive, and even simply unpopular, figure in the modern Labour Party, there are hopes that he is still seen as a political “big beast” and […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Patronising people with patriotism will not win 2020

    Patronising people with patriotism will not win 2020

    Labour will need to win over the socially conservative voters of today in win in 2020 – but flag waving will not make up for a lack of credible policy on welfare and spending and a real understanding of the hardship faced by working people throughout the country. Widely reported research by Jon Cruddas this week suggested that since 2005, voters that were sympathetic to more socially conservative ideas have been increasingly more likely to select UKIP over Labour on […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends