I do not regard today’s event as firing the starting pistol for a referendum campaign because there is a lot of water to flow under the bridge – including the holding of a general election – before any point of decision is reached on that. But the point is, for far too long, those who want to destroy Britain’s interests and influence in Europe have been allowed to get away with murder with the lies and false propaganda they have poured out about the European Union and what it represents for our country. This cannot go unchallenged anymore. The pro Europeans have bided their time. Now we must unbide our time.
There is too much at stake. Britain has to make its living and succeed in the world and the EU gives us a critical platform in doing that. By becoming big in Europe’s vast single market, our businesses are helped to become big in the world. By the EU opening up markets in fast-growing economies elsewhere, British trade is lifted. By forging agreements to help protect our investment, our intellectual property and to enforce international rules and standards, our businesses and therefore jobs back home are helped in ways that Britain is just not big or powerful enough to do alone.
Of course, nobody likes domestic regulation and laws where these can be avoided. But the rules of Europe’s single market are about removing 28 different sets of national laws that impede trade and investment. The EU’s critics often say ‘why don’t we just have the single market and leave it at that’. But this market, which is Britain’s home market, doesn’t just create itself. Its openness has to be enforced; national barriers need to be challenged. That is the job of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice. Britain needs the single market in services to be advanced. We won’t achieve that by giving up, not bothering and retreating from our influence and standing in the Commission and the European Parliament.
And where there are free markets, there needs to be appropriate social and labour protection. This expresses our common values of solidarity and equality. The details we will argue about, as the Labour government did successfully in protecting individual choice over working time hours, but I think it a plus that as a result of having a European law citizens in the UK have for the first time a legal entitlement to paid holidays.
In the coming years, Europe is going to become a hotter topic in British politics. I welcome this. There is much to be debated, much to build alliances around and much to put right. But let’s not fool ourselves. Britain’s interests lie in Europe, whether in the EU or not we will not cease to be European as well as British. The rest of the world will continue to see us as a British European nation, joined in their eyes with the European continent. So we need to make the most of this reality and the best of our advantages in the EU. Our political leaders, all of them, regardless of party, have a duty to lead on this issue.
Of course, we can and should shape Europe and its institutions in ways that address our needs and priorities. Everyone else does that. My complaint is that, often in Britain, we do not stand up for ourselves in Europe nearly as vigorously and effectively as we should. Instead of heading up a cul de sac of mindless, inward looking, soul searching and navel gazing, we should be going out and spreading our influence and fighting for the agenda we think is good for Britain and for Europe as a whole.
That is the point of the Centre for British Influence in Europe and the Future of Europe Forum we are launching today. It is for people of all political parties and none who share our aims. It will transcend party politics and provide a platform to champion Britain’s true interests in Europe. The fight back starts here.
Of course, the Eurozone crisis and its aftermath is being seized on by the EU’s critics. For them, ‘don’t waste a good crisis’ is the motto. There is no reason for us to be put on the back foot by this. Clearly, the euro, when launched, was an incompleted project and some of us should perhaps have been more hard-headed in recognizing this. Equally, we should understand the implications for Britain and the financial hub we provide to Europe and the world of being permanently detached from a revamped and completed economic and monetary union in Europe. The City cannot thrive if it is separated from Europe’s single market in financial and professional business services. This is a crucial area where we have to safeguard Britain’s interests. In other areas, we should and must lead. In defence and security matters, for example.
Pollution is no respecter of national boundaries and Europe provides the means for collective action to tackle it. On climate change, one of the great existential challenges of our times, the sum impact of collective European efforts reaches far beyond what a single nation state can achieve. Just because Britain doesn’t participate or lead in everything, doesn’t mean we have nowhere to lead at all.
The government is throwing itself into promoting the EU-US free trade agreement. Quite right too! Ken is Britain’s secret weapon. Of course, he would be the first to acknowledge that the Trade Commissioner will be doing the actual negotiation. We would not want to be stepping on the Commissioner’s toes. But here is the point: Germany, France, Italy and others will all be busy advancing their national agendas in these talks, so that their interests are amongst the negotiating priorities. That’s exactly what we have to do, in this and every other aspect of the EU’s activities.
I cannot think of a better illustration of why Britain has to take the EU seriously, why we must be there at the forefront, leading not lurking, unable to make up our minds whether we are in, out or just hanging about. That’s the recipe for decline that we can and must reject.”
This is the transcript of a speech held by Peter Mandelson at the launch of the Centre for British Influence through Europe on 30th January 2013.