These are the responses we received from Leadership candidate Andy Burnham to our questions on Europe and the EU:
1. In the upcoming referendum on EU membership, what are the key steps Labour should take to secure an ‘in’ vote? How can we mobilise support both within and outside the party?
Being in the EU has clear economic and strategic benefits – but it also says something about the kind of country we want to be – an outward-looking, confident Britain.
This Tory government is set to be dominated by damaging division over the EU, leaving them unable to represent the national interest – just like John’s Major government was between 1992 and 1997.
This could be a disaster for our economy and for businesses who are delaying making investments while there remain questions over Britain’s future in the EU.
So I want the Government to act swiftly to get a deal with our European partners and put it to the British people, ending uncertainty at this vital time for our economy.
Since this campaign started I have already been to Brussels twice to meet with our excellent MEPs, including EPLP leader Glenis Willmott – who I am delighted to have supporting me in my campaign, as well as others in the European Commission and Parliament. We must work together to secure Britain’s future in Europe.
I am proudly pro-European and I want us to win the referendum campaign to stay in a reformed EU. We must also learn the lessons of the Scottish referendum campaign, so I am pleased to have the support of Scottish Labour MEP Catherine Stihler. I want to ensure we lead a distinctly Labour campaign, based on a vision for Europe that is in line with Labour values. There will be many different voices and campaigns in the referendum but I want to ensure there is a loud and clear Labour Yes campaign, speaking to the concerns of the British people.
2. What are your priorities for EU reform?
I want the EU to work for working people. That means listening to the legitimate concerns that we heard from the voters on doorstep in the General Election, but not caving in to the pressure of right-wing Eurosceptics on the Tory backbenches.
People have come to the UK over many generations to build our businesses and work in our public services; we should be proud of that. Free movement of people across the EU is an important principle – but it must be fair too. Although the vast majority of people come to the UK to work, voters are concerned about people claiming benefits or undercutting wages.
There is a real danger of sleepwalking into losing the EU referendum, which would be a disaster for jobs and economic growth, unless David Cameron negotiates a tough but fair package of convincing reforms on immigration. This should include measures to:
• Stop the payment of benefits to those not actually resident in this country – such as child benefit and tax credits being paid for children that live overseas – And I will support extending the period people have to be in the UK before they can access benefits from the current three months to at least two year.
• Allow for longer, more effective transitional controls for any countries joining the EU.
• Ensure Better workforce protection, cracking down on companies abusing loopholes to unfairly undercut the local workforce – this should include banning employment agencies from only recruiting from abroad, outlawing ‘shift segregation’ whereby workers are separated by nationality and better enforcement of the National Minimum Wage.
These are reforms that will help address the genuine concerns raised by working people, but the last thing that would be in their interest is for the Government to push a right-wing agenda for a race to the bottom on employment and social rights. So I have written to the Prime Minister to make clear that he should not use these negotiations to weaken employment rights guaranteed by EU law, but instead seek to strengthen protections against abuse.
3. What is your vision for Britain’s role in the EU, and how would you position the Labour party with regard to this?
Britain should remain at the heart of the EU, shaping its rules and its outlook in the world. To be on the outside like Norway – forced to obey its rules but unable to influence them – would be a disaster for the UK. Under my leadership, Labour will work constructively with our European partners on a shared project of reform.
The government should capitalise on the unprecedented level of support for reform across the EU – the UK should lead this debate, not be dragged by Cameron’s backbenchers into a “them vs us” argument with our European partners.
In these circumstances it makes sense to get on and have the referendum as soon as possible, as experts like Bank of England Governor Mark Carney have called for – otherwise we risk two years of business uncertainty and two years of government infighting over Europe, distracting from the real challenges facing our country.
4. What are the key issues that the EU will have to address in the coming years?
The central challenge for Europe is to boost jobs and growth across the continent. We have been through difficult economic times and a Europe that is truly focused on strengthening our economic performance will help all the EU’s nations recover.
The new European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker have placed jobs and growth at the centre of their mandate. I want to work in partnership with Europe on this project, and try to bring Europe closer to the people.