“Take Control” – that is the slogan of the faltering Vote Leave campaign. I say “faltering” because they are by no means beaten.
Any Labour supporter lulled by the current polls into thinking the Remain camp is on course to win need only cast their minds back to 10pm on Thursday 7 May 2015 – then, after a string of polls suggesting we were on the cusp of winning the last general election, we suffered a body blow and found ourselves roundly beaten. So we cannot let up, we cannot be complacent, we must defeat every argument the increasingly nasty and desperate Leave campaigns make. The issue of control is one of them.
First, we must remind people that the overwhelming majority of issues which materially impact on people’s lives are determined by this Tory Government. So when Iain Duncan Smith talks of “control”, we should remind voters of the bedroom tax, the housing benefit cuts and withdrawal of social security which he, not the EU, masterminded. We should point to the Building Schools for the Future projects in every constituency which Michael Gove, not the EU, halted. And we mustn’t forget to mention the top-down reorganisation of the NHS – again, nothing to do with the EU, and everything to do with domestic Tory control over our public services.
Leave campaigners’ favourite control issue is immigration, having promised not to make it the centre piece of their campaign. They say we have completely open borders, conveniently forgetting there are passport checks when you get off any plane at an airport, regardless of your where you arrive from because we are not part of the Schengen passport free area. They also avoid admitting that, by some margin, the majority of immigrants come to the UK from non EU countries (places from which many Leave campaigners suggest they want more immigration not less).
Second, far from diminishing our influence, pooling sovereignty in the areas where we choose to do so amplifies British influence. So, in the face of Russian aggression, we secured sanctions against Russia through the EU – far more effective than had we acted alone. Working with others we helped secure a nuclear deal with Iran, hopefully making the world a safer place in the long run. It is worth reminding voters that nine times out of 10 the UK is on the majority side when there are votes on the EU Council.
Third, we don’t claim the UK would not be able to do trade deals with the EU and others if we left, but that we would not do so on the same beneficial terms which we secure through our membership of the tariff free EU single market. Our bargaining power, when reaching trade deals with emerging markets like Malaysia (negotiations are ongoing), is much increased when we sit on one side of the negotiating table as part of a trading block of half a billion people. Being at that table gives the UK far more control than if we sat isolated in the corner on our own. Of course, the key point here is that millions of UK jobs are supported through these trading relationships.
Finally, we should challenge the idea that any government has total control over events – the idea of complete control by government over events in the modern world is a myth and the British public understands this. If we were to leave the EU, we would not be immune from impact of economic turbulence in the EU, the pollution of environment by our European neighbours or, say, the migration crisis – which was precipitated by instability in the Middle East (and, to a lesser, extent in Africa).
If we want to shape these global forces which impact on our people but over which we do not have complete control, then we should have the self confidence and self belief as a country to lead the charge on dealing with them through the EU and other supra national institutions. We’re a great country and have never shied away from taking on the big challenges humanity faces – so I say let’s stay true to ourselves and our history, and lead the EU in dealing with them.
We cannot make these points strongly enough – only when we get bored of saying them are they likely to get cut through. There is now less than one month to go!
Chuka Umunna is the MP for Streatham, leads the LabourIN campaign in London and was shadow Business Secretary from 2011 to 2015. He tweets @ChukaUmunna