As the talk of the Referendum is becoming a political reality, I have been speaking to as many people as I can across the South West about why I think it is so important that Britain remains firmly in the European Union. I have travelled across the region hosting public meetings where people are encouraged to come along and ask questions about the EU and learn what the EU does. I have been encouraged by the number of people who have turned out during one of the wettest January’s across the region to discuss the issue.
Whilst there are always questions and debate I have found a genuine welcome for the facts and a thirst for information. I have found it clarifies my position on our membership if I sort the benefits of the EU under three headings: pragmatic, patriotic and principled.
There is a long list of the pragmatic or practical reasons and in my view it is hard not to start off with the many jobs that flow from being part of the biggest single market in the world. One in 10 of all jobs in Britain depends on trade with other EU countries and many more will benefit indirectly. In the South West almost 1,500 businesses export to the EU and many global companies have a UK or European base in the region. Having common standards and regulations makes this trade much more straightforward, but just as importantly to me, this market also has rules for workers. Much of our employment and health and safety regulations are underpinned by EU laws which protects workers and contributes to a much fairer society.
There are so many issues that can only be dealt with on a cross border basis where working together with our European neighbours mean that we can take action to tackle the global challenges of climate change, environmental protections and tax avoidance. The EU is a major player in taking action on all of these issues.
Then there are the benefits to consumers, not just of lower prices that can be enjoyed through standardisation but also cheap flights, lower roaming charges, the European Health Insurance Card, the highest safety standards of goods in the world, lower credit and debit card fees, the list goes on.
Finally, to highlight just one further practical reason for EU membership, I firmly believe that leaving the EU would leave our country less secure. From the European Arrest Warrant to cross-border data-sharing on terrorists, the speed of our response is vital and to tackle terrorism we must stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies in Europe. The security of Britain is inextricably linked to the deep co-operation that membership of the EU provides. We must not cut ourselves off from cross-border efforts to tackle terrorism, keep our country secure and our people protected.
I also feel that there is a strong patriotic case to be made about our place in the world. We have always been an outward looking nation that has looked beyond our small island and related to the world on the central stage. If we are to be taken seriously as a nation on the world stage, we should be able to work with our nearest neighbours. Leaders from across the world are disbelieving that we are contemplating leaving the EU and will certainly not regard us any more positively if that is what happens. We are a major player in the EU not merely one out of 28, why would potential trading partners in the rest of the world want to make individual arrangements with Britain when they can easily deal with the EU as a whole?
Finally, there are the founding principles of the EU which are as important now as they were when the European Coal and Steel Community was formed to unite European countries economically and politically in order to secure lasting peace. Our continent has never had such a long period of peace within the EU boundaries. There are huge challenges facing our continent but members of the EU meet regularly and talk to each other. Whilst we may not have found a perfect model or perfect solutions, by continuing dialogue we avoid the dreadful bloody conflicts that have plagued us over centuries and is a position that we would never take as a given. We only have to look at the recent conflict in former Yugoslavia and to our eastern borders in Ukraine and the Baltic states to recognize that peace is a fragile state to be cherished. We are so much stronger when working with our allies, committed to peace, democracy and international law.
I look forward to many more discussions in communities across the region as people make their decision on the future of Britain.