Labour must fight for Europe – or it will have nothing left to reform

This Saturday the Labour Party will have a new leader. Whether you agree with him or not the common opinion holds that it looks almost certain that the new leader will be Jeremy Corbyn. One of the first tests he will face is how to position Labour in relation to Europe and the EU referendum that is likely to take place next year.

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While Labour has in recent decades been proudly vocal in its support for Europe and the EU there is certainly a degree of ambiguity in Jeremy Corbyn’s views. Last week when he was asked at the final hustings if he was “a strong pro-European” he responded that he was “concerned about the way the European Union is increasingly operating like a free market across Europe” and rounded on the EU for secretly negotiating the transatlantic trade treaty and for hiding tax evasion in Luxembourg.

Given the simple question that was posed and the context of the debate around Europe and the EU in the UK this was a disappointing answer. There is a substantial risk that this time next year Britain won’t be a member of the European Union. It is the Labour Party and the left who should be passionately making the argument for Europe, not trashing its record on national television.

That’s not to say I don’t have sympathy with some of the views that Jeremy has. Is the EU perfect? Of course not – it is in fact crying out for reform. He is completely right when he talks about the disgraceful way Angela Merkel and other European leaders have treated the Greeks, battering them into submission and forcing them into a ‘deal’ that is doomed to failure.

However, the most pressing question is undoubtedly whether we will have anything to reform. If we allow the EU to be rubbished from the left as well as the right then we will find a situation where Britain is no longer a member.

If we do not make a positive case to stay in Europe we also risk a scenario similar to that seen in Scotland where we may eke out a victory in the referendum, but the pro-European case finds itself permanent damaged – an argument I have made previously.

I hope that as the fog of the leadership election war lifts, if he is elected leader, Jeremy decides to make, and is supported by all parts of the party in making, arguments that make the positive case for Europe and continued membership of the EU. These arguments should be clear that Britain is better off – economically, socially and culturally – in Europe and the EU.

Jack Storry is the International Officer of Young Labour.

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