In the next couple of years, the UK will be make a decision on our future in the EU.
For me, that decision is not just the most important decision of this Parliament, but for decades to come.
The decision will shape our future role in the world, our standing in the world, and in my view if we vote to leave, diminish us as a country, betray our proud history and undermine our role as a global player.
So there is a lot at stake.
The EU, is not something I obsess about, but the UK’s role on the world stage is something I care passionately about.
I do not want to see the UK, Great Britain, retreat from the world and pull up the drawbridge and become a little England, nostalgic for a past that never existed, governed by a nationalist agenda, shrouded in a misplaced patriotism, especially when those advocating leaving the EU cannot describe what leaving would look like.
As far as I am concerned, retreat is not a British characteristic, but self-confidence and responsibility to ourselves and others are.
I am Chair of the Labour In for Britain PLP Group, which has over 200 members including the entire Shadow Cabinet. I am working with Alan Johnson, who is chairing the Labour Party’s In Campaign. Labour’s settled position is to see the UK remain part of the EU, because it is good for jobs, for trade, security and helps the UK punch above its weight.
Newton Aycliffe, in my constituency, is home to the largest business park in the North East. 10,000 people work there.
In a recent survey I undertook of companies in Sedgefield, 86% wanted to stay in Europe. 60% did not see EU regulation as a barrier to trading with Europe. A majority however wanted to see further reform of the EU, but 52% of businesses thought UK withdrawal would impact upon their business and future investment plans.
Hitachi Rail Europe saw its new train building factory in Newton Aycliffe open last month, creating 720 direct jobs and thousands in the supply chain. A massive investment, which is going to build the next generation of inter-city trains.
And Hitachi Rail Europe is called Hitachi Rail Europe for a reason. They want to build trains to export to the rest of the EU. That is why they are here, because of the access the UK gives them to 27 other EU countries.
So if you represent a constituency like mine, you take a step back and think long and hard about the consequences of leaving the EU.
And in my view, it’s not worth taking the risk.
And it’s not just the jobs and prosperity of my constituency that I am concerned about. I am also concerned about the jobs and prosperity of the British people.
But it’s not just me that thinks that.
A recent report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, the CEBR, a reputable economic consultancy which was used by UKIP to vet its general election manifesto also agrees. They estimate that 3.1 million jobs can be associated with exports to Europe and state that the EU is our largest trading partner with around 45% of goods and services destined for the EU.
The CEBR also says that 10% of the UK’s GDP can be associated with exports to the EU.
The report goes on to say that trade with the EU will contribute some £234 billion to GDP by 2020, rising to £277 billion by 2030. And this could be an underestimate if future trade deals negotiated with the EU are included. And I want to see the UK at the table when those trade deals are negotiated.
And I would say to UKIP, and all those who want to leave the EU, all those jobs, all that prosperity and wealth creation is something from which I do not want to be independent. I want some of that for my constituents and for Britain. And I am not prepared to put it at risk. But some are.
And what I find peculiar about those who are in favour of leaving the EU, they seem to know what they are against but they are not necessarily sure about what they are for. You cannot determine Britain’s future in the world based on an ideological whim.
Depending on which opponent to EU membership you talk to, depends on the alternative future for the UK that is offered. Let’s look at the alternatives recommended, but first I want to set out the benchmark by which they should be measured.
For me the benchmark is: UK’s current privileged access to the single market of 500 million people, from which the UK economy benefits from around £90 billion annually, and will also provide a further 790,000 jobs after further deepening of the single market. Another figure incidentally from UKIP’s favourite economic consultancy.
Do the alternatives measure up to this?
For example, joining the European Economic Area means the UK having to accept EU legislation without having a direct input into that legislation, and still having to pay significant financial contributions. That for me does not pass the benchmark test.
The North American Free Trade Agreement alternative is entirely speculative, especially when the US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, has said that there is no prospect of a trade deal between the US and the UK, if we left the EU. He said, ‘I think it is absolutely clear that the UK has a greater voice at the trade table being part of the EU. We’re not particularly in the market for free trade deals with individual countries’. At the same time, the EU is to negotiate a trade agreement, known as TTIP, with the US and I would rather be at that table negotiating than not. So, again the benchmark is not reached.
Then there’s the Commonwealth. Commonwealth GDP is growing, however, 89% of Commonwealth countries are considered either developing or least developed countries. EU member states are more matched to our relatively expensive manufactured goods, such as cars and pharmaceuticals. Even Commonwealth countries such as Australia, Canada and India want us to stay in the European Union. Another option that does not reach the benchmark.
Then there is the World Trade Organisation under its most favoured nation rule. But Britain would have to pay the common external tariff set by the EU. This would mean, in the case of food, paying an average tariff of 15% more on our exports to the EU. For cars, the UK’s largest goods export, the tariff would be 10%.
And if we leave, to then renegotiate a fresh deal with the EU and its 27 member states, as merely a trading bloc, the deal we would get would not be as good as the one we have now.
The EU may not be perfect but I am not prepared to risk what we have for a whim, a fancy, an ideological construct which is more obsessive than practical.
When I think of the EU Referendum, I think about Britain first and the EU second.
I think of my Dad’s generation who lived through the horrors of the Second World War. And how I have lived through 56 years of the 70 years of peace in Europe because of its people living and working together in peace, in no small part down to the development of the European Union and us working in concert with our NATO allies. By trading together, and living together, we can do so secure in the knowledge that by our common endeavour we can achieve more together than we ever could alone.
Globalisation has brought us closer together. It is making the world smaller. But also brings with it, problems that do not recognise national boundaries: climate change, rapid technological advancement, international financial markets and global terrorism. These are just some of the issues we face and we will not resolve them by removing ourselves from the international community because from time to time, we do not get everything we want.
We must therefore play our role in global and international institutions.
A vote to leave the EU would, I believe, diminish our great family of UK nations.
If we vote to leave, I can see a second Scottish referendum in which Scotland could quite possibly vote to leave the Union. And if we are out of Europe, and the United Kingdom is disunited, why should we have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council? Which is where, I believe, we should be because I also believe Britain is a force for good in the world.
When other nations are coming together to create economic blocs, to compete with the likes of China, Brazil and India, I do not see the sense in why some of us are hell bent on leaving the largest and most successful of them all.
Let’s reform Europe. But you’ve got to be in it, to change it.
I am not saying, if we leave the EU the likes of Hitachi Rail Europe will close its factory in Newton Aycliffe but they will drop the Europe part of their name, which will impact upon jobs and investment in the North East and the nationwide supply chain. I am not going to jeopardise that.
And I want this country to thrive and I want jobs and business to do likewise.
If we leave the EU, business in this country will survive. But for many, that is all it will do.
By Phil Wilson MP for Sedgefield